BRUSSELS — It was February and things were going from bad to worse for the European Union’s vaccination campaign, and for its top executive, Ursula von der Leyen.
Much of Europe was in lockdown, people were dying and the bloc was running low on doses of vaccines after its biggest supplier, AstraZeneca, announced production problems. Critics inside and outside the European Union questioned Ms. von der Leyen’s leadership and accused her of mishandling the crisis.
It was at that low point that she caught a break.
For a month, Ms. von der Leyen had been exchanging texts and calls with Albert Bourla, the chief executive of Pfizer, another vaccine supplier to the bloc. And as they spoke, two things became clear: Pfizer might have more doses it could offer the bloc — many more. And the European Union would be thrilled to have them.
That personal diplomacy played a big role in a deal, to be finalized this week, in which the European Union will lock in 1.8 billion doses from Pfizer, which, with its smaller German partner, BioNTech, made the first Covid-19 vaccine to get regulatory approval in the European Union.
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suing over the missed doses — and has moved forward its target date for getting 70 percent of its adults fully immunized. It is now July, instead of September.
The bloc is already one of the world’s biggest producers and exporters of Covid-19 vaccines, with just over 159 million doses shipped to 87 countries since December. That is almost exactly as many as it has kept at home to immunize its own people.