BRUSSELS — The calls began in December, as the United States prepared to administer its first batches of Covid-19 vaccine. Even then, it was clear that the European Union was a few weeks behind, and its leaders wanted to know what they could learn from their American counterparts.
The questions were the same, from President Emmanuel Macron of France, President Ursula von der Leyen of the European Commission, and Alexander De Croo, the prime minister of Belgium.
“How did you do it?” Dr. Moncef Slaoui, the United States vaccine czar, recalled them asking on the calls. “And what do you think we missed?”
Since then, the rollout gap between Europe and the United States has only widened, and some of the countries hardest hit early in the pandemic are facing a deadly third wave of infections. France, large parts of Italy, and other regions are back in lockdown. Roughly 20,000 Europeans die of Covid-19 each week.
temporarily halt the distribution of the AstraZeneca vaccine. Most of them resumed using it on Friday, after Europe’s top drug regulator vouched for its safety, but public confidence in the shot has been badly shaken.
Vaccine salvation remains, for now, still tantalizingly out of reach. Only about 10 percent of Europeans have received a first dose, compared with 23 percent in the United States and 39 percent in Britain.
There is no single culprit. Rather, a cascade of small decisions have led to increasingly long delays. The bloc was comparatively slow to negotiate contracts with drugmakers. Its regulators were cautious and deliberative in approving some vaccines. Europe also bet on vaccines that did not pan out or, significantly, had supply disruptions. And national governments snarled local efforts in red tape.
leaders pointing fingers over why some of the world’s richest countries, home to factories that churn out vast quantities of vaccine, cannot keep pace with other wealthy nations in injecting its people.
Compared with nearly all the rest of the world, the European Union is in an admirable position. Its leaders say it remains feasible to vaccinate 70 percent of the Continent by this summer. The bloc has ordered enough doses to fully vaccinate its population at least three times, to the consternation of countries that will wait years for full coverage.
But Europeans are stung, especially, to see Britain’s rollout going so well after the country exited the bloc. Everyone wants to know why the E.U. has not triumphed.
‘Not Equipped for a Gunfight’
The European Union trailed the United States and Britain from the start.
Washington had already spent billions on clinical trials and manufacturing by the time Europe decided to pool its resources and negotiate as a bloc. In mid-June, the European Commission, the bloc’s executive branch, announced a joint vaccine purchase with a $3.2 billion pot.