National leaders are starting to feel the heat over the EU’s struggling Covid vaccine rollout, which is increasingly being seen as overcautious, marred by mistakes and miscalculations, and achingly slow to progress.
Shaken by the weekend’s high-profile blunder in Brussels, both Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron felt the need to explicitly defend the bloc’s approach this week, as vaccination numbers continue to lag behind countries such as Israel, the UK and US.
The German chancellor conceded on Tuesday night that it “rankled” that others were vaccinating faster, but said the EU’s slower but collective strategy had been the right one. “All in all, I don’t think anything has gone wrong,” she said.
France’s president also said, in an unexpected TV appearance on Tuesday, that progress “may seem slow” compared with countries that had “made other bets”. But he added: “I defend the strategy we have adopted with Germany, with the EU.”
Both reiterated their pledge that a jab would be offered to all adults who wanted it by the end of the summer. EU member states have so far collectively administered at least one dose to just 3% of the population, against 59% in Israel, 15% in the UK and 10% in the US.
EU countries are at different stages in their struggle with the virus, with some, such as Italy and Poland, lifting lockdown restrictions and others, such as Germany and the Netherlands, retaining them, mainly over concerns about new variants.
France, meanwhile, hopes to avoid a third national lockdown as case numbers remain stable but comparatively high, while Portugal has been hit by a devastating surge and on Wednesday accepted doctors, nurses, ventilators and hospital beds from Germany.
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