Explainer: Inside Europe's fight for COVID shots

[President of EU Commission, Ursula von der Leyen]

“Today is delivery day. And tomorrow vaccination against COVID-19 is beginning across the European Union.”

This was President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen delivering good news on the 26th December.

She hailed it as a touching moment of unity.

“And a European success story.”

But within a few weeks, the optimism had turned to confusion, anger and panic

as the EU’s vaccine rollout was plunged into crisis.

{Ursula von der Leyen} "I got, like many of you, the news today that Pfizer announced delays.”

[Reuters reporter]

“AstraZeneca told the EU on Friday it could not meet agreed supply targets to the end of March."

[Reuters reporter]

"Vaccine rollouts in the European Union have been slow and fraught with problems compared with other countries."

[Reuters reporter]

“The European Union asked AstraZeneca to divert supplies from the UK.”

[President of EU Commission, Ursula von der Leyen]

"And now the companies must deliver, they must honour their obligations."

By the first week of February, the U.S. had given first doses to 11% of the population according to Our World in Data, Britain almost 17%, while the EU countries put together - just under 4%.

Why has the EU been so slow to vaccinate?

The EU is making more comprehensive checks on vaccines before approval

which had already meant a slower rollout of shots than other countries, such as Britain, which opted to use emergency powers to speed up the process.

[Angela Merkel, German Chancellor] "The European Union has decided against emergency approvals. We know that Great Britain has approved AstraZeneca within 24 hours. I think we did the right thing. It's about trust."

Then in January, U.S. drugmaker Pfizer and Anglo-Swedish AstraZeneca both announced supply cuts to the EU.

AstraZeneca cited production problems at its Brussels plant and a 60% fall in supply.

There was an immediate public outcry across Europe.

[European Commission President, Ursula Von Der Leyen] “Europe invested billions to help develop the world's first COVID-19 vaccines to create a truly global common good. And now, the companies must deliver."

[Sebastian Kurz, Austrian Chancellor ] "They are already using the vaccine in Great Britain, in other countries as well."

[Stella Kyriakides, EU Health Commissioner] "Not being able to ensure manufacturing capacity is against the letter and the spirit of our agreement."

Astrazeneca does also makes vaccines in Germany and Britain.

But the British factories became closed off, because London was using a clause in its contract that gave it priority over doses made in the United Kingdom.

Public data showed Britain - freshly divorced from the EU – was inoculating people at a much faster pace than any EU country.

[British Prime Minister, Boris Johnson] “With every day that goes by you can see that medicine is slowly getting the upper hand over the disease."

[British Prime Minister, Boris Johnson] “It think it would have been a great pity if we'd followed the advice of the opposition - the Labour party - who said stay in the EU vaccine's programme.”

At one stage, the EU even threatened to block vaccine exports - a move that would have been likely to hit Britain’s imports of vaccines from Pfizer’s Belgian plant.

But it went back on the threat.

[British Cabinet Officer Minister, Michael Gove] “But trust has been eroded, damage has been done, and urgent action is therefore needed.”

Doubt was beginning to be cast on the EU’s ability to enforce contracts it had agreed on behalf of its members.

A row erupted over a contract signed in August by AstraZeneca and the EU Commission.

AstraZenca said it wasn’t legally required to deliver doses to the EU on a precise timeline,

because the contract only stated it would make its “best efforts” to deliver.

Meanwhile, worrying scenes across Europe as vaccination centers cancelled or delayed appointments.

[Mayor Of Paris' 17th District, Geoffroy Boulard] "We're mobilized, we're ready to welcome vulnerable people, except that we don't have the vaccine."

The delays risk leaving millions in Europe unprotected deep in the winter, just as new, more transmissible, variants circulate and hospitals become overwhelmed.

[Medical Director, Isabel Zendal Hospital, Javier Marco] "The problem we are facing in the EU, regarding the incapacity of two big companies to deliver the necessary doses at the necessary speed, has been a major blow, at least for health workers. Missing these deadlines leaves us at the mercy of the pandemic again for an unknown amount of time."