Speaking on Wednesday, von der Leyen said, “This is good news. But as we can see with the announcement by Johnson & Johnson yesterday, there are still many factors that can disrupt the planned delivery schedule of vaccines.”
This was a reference to Johnson & Johnson delaying its rollout in Europe due to possible health risks linked to its vaccine.
Von der Leyen also took a sideways swipe at AstraZeneca, which has been accused of reneging on its supplies pledge and has also been the subject of recent speculation about the safety of its vaccine.
Without naming AstraZeneca, she said, “I want to thank BioNTech-Pfizer. It has proven to be a reliable partner. It has delivered on its commitments, and it is responsive to our needs. This is to the immediate benefit of EU citizens.”
Von der Leyen said the COVID-19 pandemic remains a “severe threat to people's health and livelihoods.”
She said, “We are in a race against time. The faster we reach our target of having 70 percent of adults in the European Union vaccinated, the better chances we have of containing the virus.”
She said vaccination was “picking up speed across Europe”, with Member States receiving over 126 million doses of vaccines as of Tuesday.
“I am happy to say that today we have reached 100 million vaccinations in the EU. This is a milestone that we can be proud of. Of these 100 million vaccinations, more than a quarter are second doses – which means that we have now more than 27 million people fully vaccinated.”
“This is good news. But as we can see with the announcement by Johnson & Johnson yesterday, there are still many factors that can disrupt the planned delivery schedule of vaccines”
Ursula von der Leyen, European Commission President
She said, “We are doing everything in our power to support Europe’s vaccination rollout, also by increasing the supply of vaccines in the coming weeks and months.”
The agreement with BioNTech-Pfizer will, she noted, “speed up the delivery of vaccines.”
Referring to the 50m additional doses of BioNTech-Pfizer vaccines, von der Leyen said, “Those 50 million doses were initially foreseen for delivery in the fourth quarter of 2021. Now, they are available in quarter two.”
This will bring the total doses delivered by BioNTech-Pfizer to 250 million doses in the second quarter. These doses will be distributed pro-rata to the population.
“This will substantially help consolidate the rollout of our vaccination campaigns,” she added.
Looking to the future, she said, “We are drawing the lessons from the first phase of our answer to the pandemic. It is clear that to defeat the virus decisively, we will need to be prepared.”
“At a certain point in time, we might need booster jabs to reinforce and prolong immunity, and if escape-variants occur, we will need to develop vaccines that are adapted to new variants - and we will need them early and in sufficient quantities.”
“Having this in mind we need to focus on technologies that have proven their worth. mRNA vaccines are a clear case in point.”
“I am happy to say that today we have reached 100 million vaccinations in the EU. This is a milestone that we can be proud of. Of these 100 million vaccinations, more than a quarter are second doses – which means that we have now more than 27 million people fully vaccinated” Ursula von der Leyen, European Commission President
Based on this she said the Commission had entered into a negotiation with BioNTech-Pfizer for a third contract.
This contract will foresee the delivery of 1.8 billion doses of vaccine over the period of 2021 to 2023.
She went on, “The negotiations we are launching today - and hope to conclude very rapidly - are a further important step in Europe's response to the pandemic. Other contracts, with other companies, may follow.”
Elsewhere, the Commission has sought to downplay data protection fears over its ‘Digital Green Certificate’ that aims to allow Europeans to travel more freely over the summer.
The certificate, or pass, would take the form of a digital or printed QR code that showed a person has been vaccinated, the results of tests for those not yet vaccinated and information on recovery for people who have contracted COVID-19.
Southern Member States such as Spain and Greece are particularly keen to unlock tourism this summer.
EU Justice Commissioner Didier Reynders told the European Parliament on Tuesday that the Commission is “ready to complete the necessary technical infrastructural work by the end of June, and that the certificate would not result in a central database created at the EU level.”