EU leaders seek to inject energy into slow vaccine rollout
BRUSSELS (AP) — European Union leaders are gathering Thursday to try to inject new energy into the bloc’s lagging coronavirus vaccination efforts as concern mounts that new variants might spread faster than authorities can adapt.
The leaders will meet via videoconference from 1400 GMT (9 a.m. EST). They’ll debate ways to ease production bottlenecks and speed up the rollout of vaccines, as well as the severity of restrictions that should remain in place to halt the spread of the virus, which has killed more than 515,000 people across the bloc's 27 nations.
“The epidemiological situation remains serious, and the new variants pose additional challenges. We must therefore uphold tight restrictions while stepping up efforts to accelerate the provision of vaccines,” the leaders will say, according to a draft summit statement seen by The Associated Press.
The European Commission has sealed deals with several companies for well over 2 billion vaccine shots — far more than the EU population of around 450 million — but only three have been authorized: jabs from Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna and AstraZeneca. Officials say the Johnson & Johnson vaccine could be approved next month.
Not far from from where European Council President Charles Michel is chairing the summit from Brussels, the heads of the big pharmaceutical companies making vaccines will be grilled by EU lawmakers as the meeting goes on.
The leaders will also weigh whether and when to introduce vaccine certificates, which could help smooth a return to air travel and possibly avoid another disastrous summer holiday season, as the tourism industry and broader economies suffer from restrictions.
Southern European countries dependent on tourism, like Greece and Spain, support such a system, but their northern EU partners, like Germany, doubt whether the...