Von Der Leyen Rips Vaccine Critics, Puts Blame on Astra
(Bloomberg) -- The European Commission is “tired of being the scapegoat” for the slow rollout of vaccines, its president, Ursula von der Leyen, said as she continues to face pressure over the EU’s uncertain response to the pandemic.
In a blistering counter-attack against criticism over the European Union’s sluggish Covid-19 vaccination program, von der Leyen refocused blame on manufacturers, notably AstraZeneca Plc, which she said hadn’t stockpiled doses as it started producing in Europe.
As long as Astra “cannot explain why they did not deliver in Europe, we have a problem with seeing doses from Europe produced here in Europe going somewhere else,” she told a group of women journalists in Brussels. “I think it’s the responsibility of the company to organize its deliveries.”
As the European Union tries to accelerate inoculations, the death toll continues to rise. On Monday, Italy’s total coronavirus-related deaths surpassed 100,000, making it the sixth country to reach the grim milestone. Daily infections in the country are accelerating and reached a three-month high last week.
AstraZeneca has so far delivered about 10.7 million vaccines to the EU, according to data from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control. The company has promised to supply 40 million doses by the end of March.
It may partly explain the EU’s slow delivery. The bloc so far has given 9.1 shots per 100 people, according to the Bloomberg vaccine tracker. That compares with more than 27 doses in the U.S. and almost 35 in the U.K.
Germany, the EU’s largest country, will drastically speed up its coronavirus vaccination campaign and aims to get shots to as many as 10 million people a week from the end of March.
But such an ambitious target, mentioned by Finance Minister Olaf Scholz on Sunday, would require Germany to turbo-charge its so-far underwhelming rollout. It’s distributed about 7.3 million doses in total since inoculations started 10 weeks ago.
As European countries struggle to increase inoculation rates, they are faced with what to do about vaccines produced within the bloc being exported elsewhere.
Italy last week blocked a shipment of Astra’s vaccine to Australia, using a recently introduced EU regulation for the first time.
“If a company doesn’t deliver, we cannot allow exports,” von der Leyen said. “From the very beginning I have supported Italy in its decision because, as we see, AstraZeneca is delivering below 10% of what” had initially been contracted for the first quarter.
Von der Leyen said things were improving in the EU, where monthly vaccine production is to be doubled. The commission sees output of 90 million to 100 million doses a month by the end of March.
“If you look at the rest of the world, we are very good where vaccination is concerned and the vaccination rates are rising,” von der Leyen said.
Governments are counting on increased deliveries of existing vaccines, as well as approval for others, to help accelerate the rollout. Commission spokesman Eric Mamer clarified to journalists in Brussels on Monday that the forecast for 300 million doses in the second quarter takes all available vaccines into account, including those yet to gain regulatory approval, such as one from Johnson & Johnson.
The J&J shot is expected to be accepted at the European level this week, EU internal markets chief, Thierry Breton, said on France 2 television.
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