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Supply shortages and delays leave Europe’s vaccination campaign in crisis

Europe’s vaccination rollout is in crisis with manufacturing delays causing supply shortages and thousands of appointments cancelled indefinitely. The European Union wants to see 70 percent of its population inoculated by the fall. But frustration is growing amongst its citizens amid the realization those targets could be out of reach. Special Correspondent Lucy Hough reports.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Supply shortages, and thousands of appointments canceled indefinitely. Europe's vaccination rollout is in crisis.

    Manufacturing delays have led to the bloc being left short of millions of vaccines. The European Union wants to see 70 percent of its population inoculated by the fall. But frustration is growing among its citizens, amid the realization those targets could be out of reach.

    Special correspondent Lucy Hough has this report.

  • Lucy Hough:

    It was a race to set up this vaccine facility in the suburbs of Paris on time. By the first week of February, the center was due to welcome hundreds of people to receive their first dose.

    But the vaccine supplies never arrived, and those appointments canceled. The white tents here, for now, stand empty, and, for the staff, it's a waiting game.

  • Jean-Michel Genestier (through translator):

    We have 800 people on a waiting list to get vaccinated here. The site was built in just 72 hours, ready to meet demand of those who wanted to get the shot and be protected. But now the government can't give us a date of when we might be able to open our doors, because they don't know how many doses they will get and when.

  • Lucy Hough:

    It's a story repeated across Europe, a mass vaccination program that was due to begin with nursing homes, health workers and the elderly, Judy has now stalled due to manufacturing delays.

    The supply shortages have left many vulnerable citizens scrambling to find an appointment; 78-year-old Peter Wilkitsky in Berlin should have been one of the first in line in his country's rollout.

  • Peter Wilkitsky:

    I cannot predict when it will be my turn to get vaccinated. So — and I have no possibility even to apply. I must wait until I get the invitation from the health services. They will probably inform me in the next two months.

  • Lucy Hough:

    Twenty-six million vaccine doses were delivered to the European Union by mid-February, with around two-thirds of them used. That's just a fraction of the E.U.'s population of 450 million.

    All three of the vaccines authorized for use, Moderna, BioNTech/Pfizer and Oxford-AstraZeneca, have cut deliveries in the first quarter. Pfizer has not yet delivered around 10 million doses that were due in December, leaving the bloc a third short.

    Rates of production at European sites across the board have been unable to meet demand. Ursula von der Leyen, European Commission president, and German herself, has admitted mistakes were made.

  • Ursula Von Der Leyen (through translator):

    It is also a fact that, today, in the fight against the virus, we are still not where we want to be.

    We were late to authorize vaccines. We were too optimistic when it came to massive production. And perhaps we were too confident that what we ordered would actually be delivered on time.

  • Lucy Hough:

    It's led to a stand-off between the E.U. and pharmaceutical giants, with delays set to continue for at least two months, whilst production capacity on the continent is ramped up.

    Tensions reached breaking point when AstraZeneca announced it would be cutting its deliveries to the E.U. by tens of millions of doses in the first quarter, leading to a furious row. Those tensions were exacerbated by the fact that there was a smooth rollout of the same jab in the U.K., which reported no supply issues. It's forced the E.U. to turn increasingly inward.

    Europe is a major vaccine manufacturing hub, and exports millions of doses each month, but the bloc has now placed export controls on vaccine deliveries to make sure that what's made here isn't being shipped overseas, at the expense of European citizens.

    Those new export controls, coupled with the issues of supply, are beginning to be felt beyond the E.U.'s borders. Vaccine exports to Canada this month have been slashed. Frustrated lawmakers in Europe say global cooperation needs to improve, pointing their fingers directly at U.S. policy.

    Peter Liese is a member of the European Parliament:

  • Peter Liese:

    We have a problem with the United States. Donald Trump made an export ban. And that's why the European Union is supplying the world. Canada ordered more vaccine than the European Union. But because there's a problem in the Belgian plant, there is no vaccine coming to Canada. There's nothing from the U.S. going to Canada.

    The European Union has to supply Canada. And that's a problem.

  • Lucy Hough:

    The E.U. is looking for cooperation, not just from the U.S., but from the neighboring U.K., recently departed from the bloc.

    Unshackled from Brussels, the U.K. has given a first shot to a third of its adult population, compared to less than 5 percent in France and Germany. It negotiated bilateral deals directly with pharmaceutical firms. But the U.K. has taken a different approach, administering the first dose amongst all high-risk groups and delaying the second shot.

  • Dr. Anthony Harnden:

    Our government have been excellent at ordering a variety and a large supply of many different vaccines. It's this sort of combined effort that we have done in the U.K., from all sorts of different groups, that have led to the great success in our immunization strategy.

  • Lucy Hough:

    The progress of the U.K. is being watched with envy from across the English Channel, as Europe's vaccination program grinds to a near halt.

    It's pushed some European countries to take matters into their own hands. Hungary has become the first member state to unilaterally authorize the Russian Sputnik V shot, without E.U. regulatory approval.

    Other European nations are being forced to wait, as they again shut borders to international travel and grapple with containing new COVID-19 variants, now spreading fast. Meanwhile, tens of millions of elderly European citizens await their first dose.

    Weeks of idle and empty vaccine centers like this one in Paris could come at a heavy economic and human cost.

    For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Lucy Hough in Brussels.

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