Glad we left? EU chief admits it will be difficult to vaccinate 70% of adults by summer

Matt Hancock discusses possible coronavirus vaccine passports

Charles Michel, president of the European Council, made the stark admission as millions of people across the 27-nation bloc continue living under some form of Covid restrictions. His comments come as the EU faces scrutiny over its slow rollout of coronavirus vaccines, weeks after Britain set the ball rolling.

On Sunday Mr Michel offered a less-than-hopeful outlook for the EU’s potential to achieve its vaccination goal.

He told Europe1 radio: “There are difficulties in the production lines in the coming weeks and that will make the process more complex.

“But if we manage to mobilise the production lines, we may be able to succeed.

“It’s going to be difficult.

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The EU has not yet given the go-ahead to the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine.

The jab was approved by the UK’s medicines regulator in December.

Matt Hancock, the Health Secretary, said the NHS is distributing the vaccine at a rate of 200 jabs per minute.

So far, more than 6.3 million Britons have been given their first of two doses.

But Brussels could sign off the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine as early as Monday, although there will be delays in the delivery of the vaccine.

A spokesperson for the European Commission said the bloc “will explore with AstraZeneca any measures to increase predictability and stability of deliveries, and acceleration of the distribution of doses”.

However, last week AstraZeneca said it expects the first deliveries of its Covid jab to the EU to be “lower than initially anticipated”.

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This is due to the “reduced yields at a manufacturing site within our European supply chain”, the drugmaker said.

And Pfizer Inc said it was temporarily slowing supplies to Europe to make manufacturing changes that would boost output.

Mr Michel said the bloc would make vaccine companies respect supply contracts they have signed for the supply of Covid jabs.

Mr Michel said: “We plan to make the pharmaceutical companies respect the contracts they have signed … by using the legal means at our disposal.”

He did not mention possible sanctions but said that the EU would insist on transparency about the reasons for the delays.

He said that after Pfizer’s first warnings about delays of several weeks, the EU had managed to reduce these delays by taking a tough stance.

He added: “We banged our fist on the table and finally announced delays of several weeks turned into a slowdown of deliveries.”

The EU approved the BioNTech/Pfizer vaccine on December 21 – nearly three weeks after the UK gave it the green light.

Mr Michel convened a summit of EU leaders last week at which they discussed the response to the pandemic, including the emergence of several new, more contagious strains of the virus, and fears of production delays that could slow delivery of vaccines.

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