The Tunnel Gets Darker: Europe’s Vaccine Roll-Out Mired in Controversy Amid Fears Over New Covid-19 Variants

Written by | Monday, February 15th, 2021

The European Commission admitted on Wednesday (10 February) mistakes were made during the bloc’s approval and rollout of vaccines, but argued lessons were learned in the process. The admission came amid a wave of criticism over the slow pace of COVID-19 vaccinations in member states. The president of the European executive, Ursula von der Leyen, noted the progress that COVID-19 vaccination campaigns have made across the EU, particularly in care homes and among medical staff. “We will work as hard as we can to achieve our goal of having 70% of the adult population in Europe vaccinated by the end of summer,” she vowed. Faced with the harshest criticism of her tenure over the vaccine distribution, von der Leyen said that the EU institutions and the members states underestimated the difficulty of mass production. “We were late for admission. We were too optimistic about mass production. And maybe we were too sure that what we ordered would actually be delivered on time.”
In a separate but related development, the European Ombudsman, Emily O’Reilly, has urged the EU agency in charge of preventing and monitoring viral infections to provide greater clarity about its work, after identifying “gaps” in both its transparency practices and effectiveness. This inquiry, focused on the early stage of the pandemic crisis, from January to April 2020, is part of a wider investigation into how EU initiations responded to the first coronavirus outbreak. Meanwhile, Hungary has announced its plans to start vaccinating its citizens with Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine as early as possibly this week, making it the first EU country to do so. Hungary is also the first EU country where national authorities have given the green light to the Russian jab, which has not been approved yet by the EU medicines regulator.
Germany will reportedly close its borders with the Czech Republic and the Austrian Tyrol region, both of whom have been described by German authorities as zones with high infection rates of contagious COVID-19 variants. Czech regions and the Tyrol bordering Germany will be classified on the list of territories highly affected by virus mutations. Travellers coming from certain areas of Austria or the Czech Republic will have to provide proof of a negative coronavirus test in order to enter Germany, a requirement that will present a hurdle for thousands of cross-border workers. With the mounting concerns across Europe and the world over the new COVID-19 variants, AstraZeneca has said it expects to have a new version of its COVID-19 vaccine ready for use by mid to late 2021. The Anglo-Swedish company thus responded to concerns about emerging variants of the disease that may be more transmissible or resistant to existing vaccines. “We’re moving fast and we’ve got a number of variant versions in the works that we will be picking from as we move into the clinic,” said Mene Pangalos, head of biopharmaceuticals research for AstraZeneca.

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