European leaders failed to anticipate that Covid-19 vaccines would be developed as soon as they were, French President Emmanuel Macron said on Wednesday.
He blamed the slow pace of rollouts in the EU on that lack of foresight.
“Everybody, all the EU experts said: Never in the history of mankind was a vaccine developed in less than a year,” Macron told Greek television channel ERT.
“We didn’t shoot for the stars. We were wrong to lack ambition, to lack the madness to say: It’s possible, let’s do it,” Macron said, in a rare admission of failure.
EU leaders are still struggling to speed up vaccinations, trailing countries like Britain and the US and facing supply delays.
Macron himself has been criticised at home for a faltering rollout which has been slowed by bureaucracy and French public mistrust of vaccines.
“You can give that to the Americans: as early as the summer of 2020 they said let’s pull out all the stops and do it,” Macron said. “We didn’t go fast enough, strong enough on this. We thought the vaccines would take time to take off.”
The EU tightened its oversight of coronavirus vaccine exports on Wednesday, giving it greater scope to block shipments to countries with higher inoculation rates such as Britain, or which are not sharing the doses they produce.
Meanwhile, Hungary’s hospitals are under “extraordinary” pressure from rising coronavirus infections, its surgeon general said on Wednesday, as the country became a hotspot in the third wave of a pandemic that has hit Central Europe especially hard.
A new wave of infections that has swept through the region has seen Hungary this week overtake the Czech Republic as the country with the world’s highest daily Covid-19 deaths per capita, according to figures from Our World in Data.
While new infections in the Czech Republic and Slovakia have started to decline, Poland has reported a record 30,000 new cases.
Sociologist Daniel Prokop, who has been tracking behaviour through the pandemic told Reuters, “For some reason most of eastern Europe has failed in the fight against the pandemic.”