European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen defended the EU’s vaccination record on Sunday and doubled down on ambitious inoculation targets.
“We want to have vaccinated 70% of adults in Europe by the end of summer. That would be the approximate time period that we would need to reach such a vaccination rate,” she said in an interview with German public broadcaster ZDF.
Her remarks echo a pledge she made earlier this month, with her second-in-command, EU Commission Vice President Margaritis Schinas, clarifying that “summer” was to mean the time between June and the end of August.
Talking to ZDF on Tuesday, Von der Leyen sidestepped a question comparing the EU’s somewhat sluggish vaccination rates to those in the United States and the United Kingdom.
“I think the only race we are in is with the virus and against time,” she said.
So far, 18 million vaccine doses have been delivered to the EU and 12 million people out of the bloc’s 446 million population have gotten at least a first dose.
“That is an impressive figure compared to the size of the European Union. We’ve made good progress,” she added.
Von der Leyen admitted that February and March will be “difficult” months, but said that the vaccine delivery problems should be largely lifted after those points.
The bloc’s vaccination targets have been put in jeopardy by delays in delivery of the AstraZeneca/Oxford and BioNTech-Pfizer vaccines.
More AstraZeneca doses secured
Von der Leyen’s remarks came following talks on Sunday between the EU Commission chief and seven pharma executives from companies that have vaccine contracts with the EU.
During the talks AstraZeneca extended an olive branch to the bloc. The company agreed to supply an additional 9 million doses of its vaccine during the first quarter.
Von der Leyen praised the move as a “step forward” on Twitter, adding that the company “will also expand its manufacturing capacity in Europe.”
However, even the new delivery target of 40 million doses by the end of March is still only half of the company’s original pledge.
The curbs announced last week sparked a tense spat between the company and the EU, which accused AstraZeneca of not upholding its contractual obligations.
AstraZeneca blamed production issues at a production site in Belgium, initially saying it would need to curb 60% of its promised deliveries to the EU in the first three months of 2021.
The EU voiced concerns that AstraZeneca was treating the EU unfairly compared to other customers, including Britain.
On Friday, the EU moved to tighten rules on vaccine exports, sparking a complaint from the United Kingdom.