The European Union It intends to concentrate efforts on boosting the mass production capacities of vaccines for the coronavirus, announced this Wednesday the president of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, under strong pressure due to the difficulties in the supply to the countries of the bloc.
In a tense speech to the European Parliament, Von der Leyen admitted stumbling and affirmed that his team learned the necessary lessons, but vigorously defended the strategy of centralizing in his office the action of the 27 countries to face the coronavirus pandemic.
In the view of the German leader, the central problem of the strategy was underestimate complexity which represents the production of hundreds of millions of doses of novel vaccines in such a short term, and pointed out that the industry failed to keep up with the evolution of science.
“Generally speaking, we have underestimated the difficulties of mass production. Normally, it takes five to ten years to produce a new vaccine. And we did it in 10 months (…) But in a way, science has outpaced the industry, “Von der Leyen told the European Parliament.
After the development of vaccines, “the industry must adapt to the pace of science. We need a deeper coordination on the essential components, and improve the capacities” of production on the necessary scale, he added.
The Pfizer-BioNtech vaccine was the first to be distributed in Europe. Photo: AFP
One of the “bottlenecks” in the whole process, he noted, “concerns the synthetic molecules.”
According to Von der Leyen (who is a doctor specializing in epidemiology), vaccines to contain the coronavirus pandemic “contain up to 400 components, and production involves up to 100 companies, and that is why we have created a group to increase the industrial production of vaccines “.
East special group It will be led by the European Commissioner for the Internal Market, the Frenchman Thierry Breton.
In his first public speech on the situation, Von der Leyen said that the Commission had made mistakes in procuring vaccines on behalf of all EU countries, but defended the overall strategy.
The AstraZeneca laboratory, which produces the vaccine in conjunction with the University of Oxford, delayed deliveries and sparked a fight with the European Union. Photo: Bloomberg
“We were late for the authorization (of vaccines). We were too optimistic in regards to mass production. And perhaps we were too sure that what we asked for would be delivered on time,” he said.
Having allowed the richest countries in Europe to take charge of vaccines and put aside the smaller countries “would have been, I think, the end of our community,” he argued.
Von der Leyen and the EU leadership are under strong pressure due to the difficulties encountered in supplying vaccines to the bloc countries, and the lack of transparency about contracts.
In 2020, the Commission agreed that it would negotiate on behalf of the 27 member countries with pharmaceutical companies, and with that power it signed pre-purchase contracts for 2.3 billion doses.
A nurse prepares to apply a dose of the coronavirus vaccine at a cultural center converted into a vaccination site in Paris, France, Photo: REUTERS
However, vaccine supply problems have already caused a bitter dispute after AstraZeneca announced that it could not immediately deliver the doses it promised to Britain and the EU.
Furthermore, in an attempt to control the production of vaccines on European territory but destined for countries outside the bloc, the EU adopted a registration system that led to a diplomatic incident with Ireland and the United Kingdom.
In that effort, the EU decided to invoke a controversial article in the UK Withdrawal Agreement from the EU referring to border controls between the Republic of Ireland and the British province of Northern Ireland, although the institution backed down due to the enormous tensions caused.
“Mistakes were made in the process leading up to the decision, and I deeply regret it,” admitted Von der Leyen. “I can guarantee that the Commission will do everything to preserve peace in Northern Ireland,” he concluded.