Not in short supply: Blame for EU's rusty vaccine rollout

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Jos Bieleveldt, 91, receives a COVID-19 vaccine in Apeldoorn, Netherlands, Tuesday, Jan. 26, 2021. Jos Bieleveldt had a spring in his 91-year-old step when he became one of the first Dutch recipients in his age group to get the coronavirus vaccine. One thing though, it really took too long a time coming. The 27-nation EU is coming under criticism for the slow rollout of its vaccination campaign. The bloc, a collection of many of the richest countries in the world, is not faring well in comparison to countries like Israel, the United Kingdom and the United States. (AP Photo/Peter Dejong)

APELDOORN – Jos Bieleveldt had a spring in his step when the 91-year-old Dutchman got a coronavirus vaccine this week. But many think that was way too long in coming.

Almost two months before, Britain's Margaret Keenan, who is also 91 now, received her shot to kick off the U.K.'s vaccination campaign that has, so far, outstripped the efforts in many nations in the European Union.

“We are dependent on what the European Commission says we can, and cannot, do. As a result, we are at the bottom of the list, it takes far too long," Bieleveldt said of the executive arm of the EU, which, perhaps unfairly, has taken the brunt of criticism for a slow rollout in many of its member states. Onerous regulations and paperwork in some countries and poor planning in others have also contributed to the delay, as did a more deliberate authorization process for the shots.

Overall, the 27-nation EU, a collection of many of the richest countries in the world — most with a universal health care system to boot — is not faring well in comparison to countries like Israel and the United Kingdom. Even the United States, whose response to the pandemic has otherwise been widely criticized and where tens of thousands of appointments for shots have been canceled because of vaccine shortages, appears to be moving faster.

While Israel has given at least one shot of a two-dose vaccine to over 40% of its population and that figure in Britain is 10%, the EU total stands at just over 2%.

And it is not just EU citizens who are laying the blame at the bloc's door. Criticism is also coming from many nations that had hoped to see some live-saving liquid from the EU trickle through their borders.

Amid concerns that the richer nations had snapped up far more doses than they needed and poorer nations would be left to do without, the EU was expected to share vaccines around.

The rocky rollout is also testing the bloc's long commitment to so-called soft power — policies that advance its cause not through the barrel of a gun but through peaceful means, like through the needle of a syringe.