EU seeks to boost credibility despite slow vaccine rollout

BRUSSELS (AP) — The European Union (EU) on Monday defended its flagging coronavirus vaccine programme, which has come under criticism from the World Health Organization (WHO), EU states and recently departed member Britain.

Ten days of bad news about stalled deliveries from producers, a rusty rollout by member states were capped last weekend when the EU made a hasty U-turn on plans to set up controls on the island of Ireland — between the United Kingdom’s (UK) Northern Ireland and the EU’s Republic of Ireland — to make sure vaccines wouldn’t be illegally transported to Britain.

Considering that avoiding a visible border to keep peace on the island was a key tenet of the Brexit EU-UK divorce agreement, that plan was aborted just before it became a firm decision, yet it left the European Commission (EC), the EU’s executive arm, with plenty of diplomatic egg on its face.

Britain’s media had a feast, depicting the EU as untrustworthy, though the UK government kept a low profile on the issue.

“These are things which happen when you are working at full speed to deal with a developing situation,” EC spokesman Eric Mamer said.

Elderly people who want to be vaccinated against the COVID-19 disease and staff stay at the vaccination centre in the Emslandhallen in Lingen, Germany. PHOTO: AP

“We have a saying only the pope is infallible. Important thing is that you recognise them early on — in this case so early that it was before the decision was finalised — and that you correct them,” he said.

Overall though, the EC stood by its plans to check on exports produced on its territory and make sure they were syphoned off somewhere else if the EU contract with producers stipulated that they should be used in the EU. WHO criticised the new EU export rules as “not helpful”.

The EU was moved to take such measures because the rollout of vaccines to its 27 member states is lagging far behind nations such as the UK, and even its own delivery plans. The EU as an institution has a massive stake in the success of the rollout as a way of showing the importance of cooperation and countering those who say it is irrelevant.

EC General Director in Charge of Health Sandra Gallina told legislators on Monday that “we bought all the doses that were available in time (…). What we buy, is a dose delivered in a certain schedule in time. This is the whole issue, it is to have the companies delivering by the time that they have committed to deliver”.

Despite the repeated setbacks, the EU remains confident member states can achieve the commission’s goal that 70 per cent of the adult population across the bloc will be vaccinated by the end of the summer. Gallina said the bloc expects to have received 400 million doses by the end of June.