German media has rounded on the EU over Europe’s vaccine debacle today – calling it ‘the best advert for Brexit‘ while blaming chief Ursula von der Leyen for the delays. 

The EU is acting ‘slowly, bureaucratically and protectionist… and if something goes wrong, it’s everyone else’s fault’ fumed a front-page editorial in Die Zeit, one of Germany‘s best-respected broadsheets.

Meanwhile Bild tore apart Von Der Leyen’s explanation of the vaccine delays and threat to stop supplies heading to the UK line by line, accusing her of placing ‘junk’ orders for vaccines three months behind Britain.

‘She says: “We know that there is no time to lose in a pandemic,” but what she means is: “We may have wasted time. But we will NEVER admit that”,’ the newspaper wrote.

Meanwhile ‘Brexit Brits continue to receive full supplies,’ the paper added.

Both reports quoted the same AstraZeneca worker, who anonymously told reporters: ‘I understand Brexit better now.’

Bild added: ‘[Von Der Leyen] is responsible for EU junk orders. 

‘Also for the fact that the EU only reached an agreement with AstraZeneca in August, not in June – as [German health minister] Jens Spahn wanted but was not allowed to. Valuable preparation time passed.

‘Von der Leyen cannot do anything for the current audacity of AstraZeneca. The criticism is justified. But it must also be self-criticism.’

‘In the UK,’ Die Zeit adds, ‘the government’s independent and swift vaccination policy is seen as evidence that the EU is too bureaucratic and slow – and is now left behind.’

The criticism came as the CEO of AstraZeneca – the company which sparked the row by cutting EU vaccine supplies by 60 per cent – spoke out to defend himself, while also pointing the finger at delays in Brussels.

Asked why supplies were being cut to the EU but not the recently-departed UK, Pascal Soriot said it had nothing to do with national favortism and everything to do with the fact that the EU placed its vaccine order late.

‘We had problems in the UK too,’ he told a trio of European newspapers including Italy’s Repubblica.

‘But the contract with the British government was signed three months before the one with the EU, therefore we had time to prepare and resolve similar issues.

‘The UK and the EU have two different production chains and at the moment the British ones are more efficient because they started earlier.’

Britain signed a contract for 300million doses of vaccine in mid-May, he revealed, but it took the EU until August to put pen to paper on the same deal.

Embarrassingly for the bloc, it appears that Germany, the Netherlands, France and Italy had originally been looking to do a deal with AstraZeneca in May – but were blocked by the EU, which insisted it take over negotiations. 

According to ITV’s Robert Peston: ‘The extra talks with the European Commission led to no material changes to the contract, but wasted time on making arrangements to make the vaccine with partner sites.’

The delays in producing the vaccine are now thought to be due to under-production at one of those sites, located in Belgium. 

Face with growing public anger over the failings, Italy threatened to sue to get its vaccine doses, while Von Der Leyen has ordered AstraZeneca  to ‘meet your obligations.’

But, according to Soriot, the company is meeting its obligations because it only signed a ‘best effort’ deal with the EU – promising to try and achieve 300million vaccines, but acknowledging that the complex process might be hit by delays.

‘We are two months behind schedule,’ Soriot admitted. ‘But we are working to solve these problems.’

For now, it appears the EU has little choice but to sit and wait as the UK and US vaccine programmes ramp up while its own effort trails behind.

Europe has been hit harder than any continent with coronavirus, suffering some 29.3million cases in total compared to second-place North America’s 29million.

Meanwhile the continent has amassed some 670,000 deaths compared to 610,000 in North America.

While leaders were praised for their handling of the first wave of virus, Europe has been hit badly with a second winter wave that a mish-mash of tiered systems and full lockdowns has largely failed to control.

The circulation of new and more-potent variants of the virus have further added to the continent’s woes, with experts warning that vaccination is now the best path out of the crisis.

Since approving both the Pfizer and AstraZeneca vaccine last year, the UK has managed to rapidly scale up its vaccine drive – and will soon have vaccinated some 30million people with all over-50s jabbed by March.

By contrast, the EU has vaccinated just 5million in total with 1.8million of those in economic powerhouse Germany.

That means Germany has vaccinated roughly 2 in 100 of its population since its vaccine roll-out began a month ago, while Israel vaccinates the same proportion of its population every single day.

The continent is now facing the grim reality that it will be March before its vaccine campaign can properly get underway, by which time the UK’s campaign will be almost halfway complete. 

‘The thing slipped away from us,’ Angela Merkel admitted on Sunday, according to a separate article on Bild hitting out at the Chancellor.

Meanwhile Markus Soder, the Prime Minister of Bavaria, was also forced to admit: ‘The fact is: something must have gone wrong. 

‘Either too little was ordered, which is why the order was placed again – obviously too bureaucratic…

‘We are a pharmaceutical country, an industrial giant. It must be possible that more can be done.

‘The only thing that worries me is that other countries seem to have ordered faster and more efficiently.’  

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