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The European Union criticized the gradual adoption of vaccines as nations tighten restrictions once more

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A nurse prepares a syringe of Covid-19 vaccine during a vaccination campaign in a nursing home in Athens.

LOUISA GOULIAMAKI | AFP | Getty Images

The European Union has been criticized for the speed with which Covid vaccines are deployed as its two largest economies extend their coronavirus restrictions due to worrying case numbers.

A number of European officials have raised concerns over the bloc's vaccination plans in the past few days, asking the European Commission, the EU's executive branch, to explain why it has not bought any more jams.

According to the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control, more than 17 million cases of coronavirus have been reported in the region (including the UK) to date.

"It is difficult to explain that a very good vaccine is being developed in Germany, but vaccination is faster elsewhere," said Markus Söder, head of the German region of Bavaria, according to Politico in an interview at the weekend. The German company BioNTech has developed one of the leading Covid vaccines together with Pfizer.

The European Union started its vaccination program in late December after approving the Pfizer / BioNTech sting. Although the jab was developed in Germany, it was approved in the UK and US long before it was given the green light by European authorities.

Uğur Şahin, CEO of BioNTech, also told the German press over the weekend that "the process in Europe was certainly not as quick and straightforward as in other countries".

The UK has now approved two more vaccines, but the European Medicines Agency has not decided on either AstraZeneca's or Moderna's offers.

In addition to concerns about the timing, there are also questions about whether the EU has bought enough vaccines.

"The (European) Commission has to face this opportunity. How is the EU going to make up for the lack of purchased dosses in the Union to this end?" European lawmaker Luis Garicano wrote a letter to Commission President Ursula von der Leyen over the weekend.

The European Commission has signed six contracts with vaccine manufacturers on behalf of European countries. Each EU country receives the vaccines at the same time and the distribution is per capita.

Under these contracts, the EU agreed to purchase 200 million doses of the Pfizer / BioNTech vaccine with the option to purchase 100 million additional doses. The commission also agreed to buy 300 million doses of vaccine from AstraZeneca, with the option to buy an additional 100 million. The contract with Moderna provides for the purchase of 80 million cans and an option to purchase up to 80 million additional cans.

According to the statistical office of the region, there are more than 447 million citizens in the 27 EU countries.

"Israel, a nation with only 1/50 of the EU population, has vaccinated more citizens than all EU member states put together. Madam President, how is that possible?" Garicano asked in his letter to von der Leyen.

A European Commission spokesman said Monday that the institution "has been very focused on making sure our strategy is being implemented well".

"The Commission understood very, very early on that both the acquisition of vaccines and the vaccination process would represent a major effort for the European Union," the spokesman told reporters virtually.

France, one of the most vaccine-skeptical nations in the EU, announced last week that it would step up its vaccination process. The country is also revising the curfew in the hardest hit regions to contain the spread of the virus.

In Germany, where there has been a national lockdown since the end of November, this immediate measure is to be extended until the end of the month.

Visitors stand in front of a Covid-19 vaccination station in the Berlin Arena in Berlin.

Bloomberg | Bloomberg | Getty Images

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Katherine Clark