If last week was not the most complicated for Ursula von der Leyen since she was president of the European Commission, it has been close to being it. The vaccination strategy and the contracts with the pharmaceutical companies have put the focus not only on the community executive, but also on its leader, who has been avoiding any explanation and, therefore, any self-criticism that he may have made. The plan? The silence. No more no less. And that is why it has become the target of criticism. “Many things have been missing these days. Not talking about the problem does not make it go away,” confirms a community source consulted by the local news agency.
The open fronts are (or were) various, and of all colors. The first and the most complex was AstraZeneca. The entity informed the European Commission that it could not comply with the vaccine deliveries scheduled for the first quarter. It would stay at 31 million doses compared to the 80 committed between January and March. That is a reduction of approximately 60%. There began a war not entirely cold. The one who stood up then was the Health Commissioner, Stella Kyriakides, who was very adamant with AstraZeneca. We are playing with human lives.The Commission suspected that the drugmaker was prioritizing deliveries to other countries before complying with the EU.
The United Kingdom and Israel would be, although Kyriakides did not say so explicitly, the beneficiaries. The CEO of the entity relied on the fact that with the British Government the contract had been signed first. After a tug of war and in the absence of “convincing explanations”, the contract was published for the sake of transparency but only half. The most relevant parts of the agreement were crossed out. Both the terms and the amounts and money did not see the light. This has already put Von der Leyen at the center of the debate. Meanwhile, she prioritized the presence in the German media, something that made many voices desperate in Brussels.
The waters seemed to calm down without ensuring that AstraZeneca complied with what was signed. Who will add doses to its deliveries will be Pfizer, which will deliver, as agreed, some 600 million after solving deficiencies at its plant in Belgium. Despite the loopholes, the contract did agree with the Commission in an important aspect: the distribution to the EU includes the AstraZeneca plants in the United Kingdom, so there is no priority or distinction between what was signed by the Executive of Johnson and what was agreed with Brussels. There is no preference of any kind. Besides, the Commission approved a tool to prevent the export of vaccines to third countries if deliveries to the EU are not fulfilled first. However, this has become a problem of communication and transparency.
The calculations of the European Commission still stand. Brussels expects that between January and June around 400 million doses will arrive and be applied, or 480 million if the fourth vaccine arrives, which would be Johnson & Johnson’s. And so? According to forecasts, 45.5% of Europeans would be vaccinated at the end of June and 70% at the end of August. That is, the initial plan would not change even despite delays and cuts.
The Commission assumes that when the rest of the vaccines are approved, the pace will increase significantly, “add the sources in this regard. One of the parties that have been demanding more insistently for better communication and transparency in the European Parliament Ursula von der Leyen agreed to meet with MEPs, but not in plenary for the moment, but by political groups, and even with them, transparency has not been total during these weeks.
The Commission’s strategy has been very clear: speak the right way and let the waters calm themselves. The week became long, and Von der Leyen received criticism from almost all fronts, while she continues to surround herself with her circle of trust. Together with the faltering decisions at the start of the pandemic, which could be understandable, these days have ended up being the least effective for the German leader. Now, the European Commission trusts its success to one figure: that by the end of summer 7 out of 10 citizens are vaccinated.