European Commission president Ursula Von der Leyen Wednesday acknowledged Europe was late approving and rolling out COVID-19 vaccines, saying they were overconfident vaccines could be delivered on time.
Speaking to the European Parliament, Von der Leyen, however, defended the decision to have the commission – the European Union’s executive branch – oversee vaccine orders and for all 27 EU members to roll out vaccines at the same time, saying had the bloc’s biggest states acted unilaterally, “it would have been the end of our community.”
She also defended not cutting corners on safety when it came to approval of vaccines and waiting for an additional three or four weeks for approval from the EU drug regulator, the European Medicines Agency. But Von der Leyen also said there were lessons to be learned from the process.
Von der Leyen said while they were focused primarily on the quick development of a vaccine, the EU underestimated the difficulties in producing high volumes quickly. She said, “In some ways, science overtook industry.”
She said they now fully understand the difficulties of mass production and have invested billions in improving capacity. She urged member states to plan their rollouts accordingly.
The European Commission chief also expressed regret about an initial plan to restrict exports to British-ruled Northern Ireland, which would have set up a hard border between it and EU member Republic of Ireland, reigniting tensions in that region.
She said, "Mistakes were made in the process leading up to the decision and I deeply regret that. But in the end, we got it right. And I can reassure you that my commission will do its utmost to protect the peace of Northern Ireland.