EU leaders calls for speedy production of COVID-19 vaccines

Leaders of the European Union (EU) called for an accelerated production and delivery of COVID-19 vaccines late on Thursday as the bloc is struggling with supply shortfalls.

“Our top priority now is speeding up the production and delivery of vaccines, and vaccinations, across the EU,” European Council President Charles Michel told reporters after the first day of the virtual summit.

He encouraged the bloc’s executive to work with industry to identify bottlenecks, guarantee supply chains, and scale up production, and meanwhile to ensure that pharmaceutical companies comply with their commitments.

The EU has been squabbling with British vaccine provider AstraZeneca over its less-than-expected capacity and failure to provide the pledged amount of doses to the EU in the first quarter.

The company’s boss told European parliamentarians on Thursday that his company would meet its promise in Q2 by ramping up production.

The bloc has set a goal of vaccinating 70 percent of its adult population by Sept. 21. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said the EU has received more than 50 million doses and administered 29 million, which means that approximately 6.4 percent of the EU population can get at least one shot.

In an effort to show solidarity to non-EU partners, von der Leyen noted the EU has doubled its support to COVAX to 1 billion euros (1.22 billion U.S. dollars).

At the same time, she said that the “vaccine in kind is desperately needed” and encouraged EU member states to organize potential donations of vaccines to third party countries.

The 27 heads of state and government agreed that non-essential travel may still need to be restricted despite COVID-19 fatigue among the public and the eagerness to have a relaxed summer.

As of last Sunday, 21,765,152 cases have been reported in the EU, with 531,869 deaths, according to the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control.