Ursula von der Leyen admits mistakes in European Union’s Covid vaccine strategy

Bloc plans to inoculate 70 per cent of adult population against Covid by end of summer

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The president of the European Commission said that mistakes were made in the EU’s Covid-19 vaccination programme when she faced the European Parliament on Wednesday.

Ursula von der Leyen admitted the bloc was not where it wanted to be in the battle against the virus. The EU's comparatively slow vaccination rate leaves it lagging behind countries such as Israel, the UAE, the UK and the US.

“It’s a fact that we’re not where we want to be in our fight against the virus,” she told parliament during a vaccine strategy debate.

"We were late with the approval. We were too optimistic on mass production. And perhaps we were also too certain that the orders would actually be delivered on time," Ms von der Leyen said.

She vowed to ensure 70 per cent of the EU's adult population would be vaccinated by the end of the summer.

“Indeed, industry has to match the ground-breaking pace of science," Ms von der Leyen said. “We fully understand that difficulties will arise in the mass production of vaccines. But Europe has invested billions of euros in capacities in advance and we urged the member states to plan the vaccine rollout."

Key European leaders including German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron backed the bloc’s inoculation strategy under which the EU is responsible for procuring vaccines and distributing to member states.

The centralised process was developed in part to ensure smaller countries received their fair share of doses. The bloc of 447 million citizens has recorded more than 500,000 deaths from Covid-19, according to Johns Hopkins University.

Ms von der Leyen caused controversy at the end of January when the EU announced a plan to introduce temporary vaccine controls between the bloc and Northern Ireland by invoking an emergency Brexit clause, a move that provoked anger in the UK, Ireland and Belfast.

“Mistakes were made in the process leading up to the decision and I deeply regret that,” Ms von der Leyen said. “I can assure you my commission will do the utmost to protect peace on the island of Ireland.”

It came as Ms Merkel held talks on Wednesday with Germany's federal state leaders over the current national lockdown. Local media reported that the government wants to keep most of the restrictions until March 14, with only small elements being relaxed such as hairdressers reopening on March 1.

It would also prioritise the gradual reopening of schools and day care centres, although this would be at the discretion of individual federal states.

On Tuesday, Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis ordered a lockdown in Athens because of rising hospital admissions.

The following day, restaurant and cafe owners asked the government for extra financial support, having been restricted to takeaways and deliveries since September.

In an attempt to draw attention to their plight, business owners dropped their keys in boxes in an Athens square and in other Greek cities. They plan to deliver the boxes to the office of Mr Mitsotakis in the next few days.