EU 'catching up' with UK on coronavirus vaccinations, says Ursula von der Leyen

EU 'catching up' with UK on coronavirus vaccinations, says Ursula von der Leyen

European Commission president claims UK strategy of delaying second vaccine dose is too risky

The European Union is catching up with Britain on coronavirus vaccinations, Ursula von der Leyen said as she called the British strategy of delaying the second dose too risky.

The European Commission president responded to criticism that the EU vaccination rollout was too slow by pointing out that 130 countries in the world had had no jabs at all.

Mrs von der Leyen said more than twice the number of Italians than Britons had had both jabs, and the EU as a whole had given out more first doses.

"We're catching up. Britain has administered 17 million first doses. There are 27 million in the EU. In Italy, with a population similar to that of Great Britain, twice as many citizens received full vaccination protection with the second dose as in the UK," she said.

She told the Augsburger Allgemeine newspaper: "I think it's risky to simply postpone the second vaccination. We should adhere to the specifications that the manufacturers determined in their extensive clinical tests."

In the UK, 27.47 doses per 100 people have been administered compared to just 6.12 across the EU. In France, 5.7 jabs per 100 people have been given, with the figure 6.1 in Germany.

Mrs von der Leyen said she could understand the "frustration" felt by many EU citizens as the bloc lagged behind Britain, the US, Israel and Turkey in vaccinations.

But the former German defence minister added: "Nobody has been vaccinated in 130 countries around the world. Europe is among the first, albeit with fewer doses in the start-up phase than expected."

Britain used faster emergency authorisation procedures to approve vaccines than the EU. The UK negotiated to secure the doses alone after rejecting an offer from Brussels last year to join the EU joint procurement scheme.

Britain's vaccination strategy was far more successful than the EU's failed and slow response to the coronavirus pandemic, Hungary's prime minister, Viktor Orbán, said.

"We've sought to do something together that we could have managed more successfully on an individual basis – take a look at the examples of Britain or Serbia," he added.

EU leaders will call for the continuation of tight coronavirus restrictions, including bans on non-essential travel such as holidays on Thursday, four days after Boris Johnson set out his roadmap out of lockdown.

They will urge the acceleration of "authorisation, production and distribution of vaccines, as well as vaccination, in the weeks and months to come", according to leaked draft conclusions for their Thursday video summit.

Mrs von der Leyen said she "would take the AstraZeneca vaccine without a second thought" after reports in Germany and elsewhere in Europe that people were reluctant to have the jab.

The AstraZeneca vaccine was falsely described as ineffectual by Emmanuel Macron, and inaccurate news reports in Germany claimed it was ineffective during the row with the EU over supply shortfalls.

AstraZeneca told the European Commission it will deliver less than half the vaccines it promised for the second quarter, an EU official told Reuters on Tuesday. The British-Swedish pharmaceutical company said it would strive to fulfil its contracted 180 million vaccines.