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European Commission President Says Late Approval Of COVID-19 Vaccine Slowed Rollout

President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen delivers a speech during a session of the European Parliament on Wednesday in Brussels.
Thierry Monasse
Getty Images
President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen delivers a speech during a session of the European Parliament on Wednesday in Brussels.

The president of the European Commission admitted to mistakes Wednesday in the bloc's approach to inoculating its 447 million people against COVID-19, acknowledging that it was late to approve a vaccine and that officials held unrealistic expectations about how quickly one could be deployed.

As a result, "We are still not where we want to be," Ursula von der Leyen told European Parliament lawmakers in Brussels.

"We were late to authorize," she said. "We were too optimistic when it came to massive production and perhaps we were too confident that, what we ordered, would actually be delivered on time."

She said the European Union had received 26 million doses so far and that by the end of summer, 70% of adults in the 27-nation bloc should be inoculated. So far, less than 4% of the EU's population has received at least one dose, compared to 17% in the U.K. Just under 10% of the U.S. population has received a first dose, according to data compiled by NPR.

Despite acknowledging mistakes, Von der Leyen defended the Commission's approach to procuring vaccines on behalf of all of its members. She said it would have been "economic madness" to allow individual member states to acquire guaranteed doses on their own. She also said that the bloc could not afford to cut corners on safety, even if it meant delaying approval.

The Commission has sought to secure more than 2 billion vaccine doses and has so far given fast-track authorization to vaccines made by BioNTech/Pfizer, Moderna and AstraZeneca.

In recent weeks, the EU has sparred with AstraZeneca over the pharmaceutical company's sudden announcement that manufacturing problems prevented it from fulfilling an order for 80 million doses of its vaccine. It later promised an additional nine million doses, but that figure is still only about half what was promised.

Speaking last month, Von der Leyen expressed anger over the slow delivery of vaccines to the EU.

"Europe invested billions to help develop the world's first COVID-19 vaccines. And now the companies must deliver. They must honor their obligations," she said.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Scott Neuman is a reporter and editor, working mainly on breaking news for NPR's digital and radio platforms.