BRUSSELS—A top European Union official said the bloc was slow and unprepared for problems in its Covid-19 vaccine rollout, but that making collective purchases was better than nations competing to buy the shots.
“We were late to authorize,“ said European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen. ”We were too optimistic when it came to mass production. And perhaps we were too confident that what we ordered would actually be delivered on time,” she told the European Parliament on Wednesday.
The European Commission, the bloc’s executive arm, has come under intense criticism in recent weeks for how it has handled contracts on behalf of the EU’s 27 countries, after several pharmaceutical companies announced production shortages that further delay an already slow vaccination campaign in Europe.
The bloc is trailing far behind Israel, the U.K. and the U.S. with just 3.9 vaccinations per 100 inhabitants, in part because of a slow market-authorization process and patchy logistics. In addition, producers of the Oxford- AstraZeneca , Pfizer -BioNTech and Moderna vaccines have announced delays in deliveries to the EU.
Ms. von der Leyen defended the unprecedented decision by the bloc’s governments to centralize purchases, amid calls from some politicians in her native Germany to order vaccines on a national basis.