EU chief admits to failings in Covid vaccine rollout, bloc was 'too optimistic'

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European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen admitted Wednesday that the EU’s much criticised approval and rollout of vaccines against Covid-19 could be partly blamed on the bloc being over-optimistic, over-confident and plainly “late."

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen defended the EU’s overall approach of trying to beat the pandemic with a unified vaccine plan for its 27 nations, even if she admitted mistakes in the strategy to quickly obtain sufficient vaccines for its 447 million citizens.

“We are still not where we want to be. We were late to authorise. 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," von der Leyen told lawmakers in the European Parliament.

Von der Leyen said mistakes were also made leading up to the decision on export curbs.

"I deeply regret that," she said, adding that the Commission would do its utmost to protect peace in Northern Ireland.

Avoiding a border between EU member Ireland and British-ruled Northern Ireland is seen as key to protecting the peace process there.

Von der Leyen said the EU had received 26 million vaccine doses and that, by the end of the summer, 70 percent of adults in the 27-nation bloc should be inoculated.

The commission chief hosed down suggestions the approvals process could have been expedited. She said the EU-bloc could not cut corners given biological substances were being injected into people's bodies, even if this lost three to four weeks to rivals.

She blamed Big Pharma for not keeping vaccine production up with scientific advances.

“The key decisions were right," said Manfred Weber, the leader of the Christian Democrat European People's Party.

The Socialists and Democrats party leader Iratxe Garcia said “Fiasco, catastrophe, disaster: they ring very true to our citizens," but added her party will stick with von der Leyen on the bloc moving together. “Criticism is necessary but with a constructive spirit."

The EU will launch a new network of clinical trials to give regulators data more rapidly and the Commission will create a taskforce to help boost vaccine production, von der Leyen said.

The last official weekly figures from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control are expected on Thursday but Johns Hopkins University has produced a daily tally showing EU virus deaths stood at 500,809 on Wednesday.

In comparison, the United States, with a population of 330 million, leads the world per nation with more than 468,000 deaths.

(FRANCE 24 with AP and REUTERS)