European Council president Charles Michel warns that the bloc’s vaccine campaign will continue to struggle in the coming weeks but is hopeful it would pick up speed heading into the second quarter.

European Council president Charles Michel has warned that the bloc’s vaccination campaign will continue to struggle in the coming weeks but is hopeful immunizations would pick up speed heading into the second quarter.  
“We know that the next few weeks are going to remain difficult on the vaccination front,” said Michel at the end of an EU leaders’ summit on Thursday, but added, “We do have the means, we have the resources, we have the capability to succeed over the next few months. 
In a statement issued after the virtual meeting, the EU leaders said it was too early to start easing COVID-19 restrictions, saying the situation “remains serious” and that new variants pose “additional challenges.”
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Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said the B.1.1.7 variant which was first detected in the UK has now been found in all member states except one, while the 501.V2 variant first discovered in South Africa is circulating in 14 countries.  
“There are a lot of challenges ahead of us,” said Von der Leyen, who herself is a trained medical doctor. 
EU leaders said the authorization, production, and distribution of vaccines needed to be “urgently accelerated.” 
According to the Bloomberg vaccine tracker, just over 4 percent of people in the bloc have received their first dose of a vaccine, compared with 27.3 percent in the UK and close to 13.6 percent in the U.S..  
The bloc’s vaccination campaign has been hit by numerous delivery shortfalls, particularly from AstraZeneca. The vaccine maker’s CEO Pascal Soriot said that the company aims to deliver 40 million doses in the first quarter, 60 percent below expectations.  
“We have experienced lower than expected yield at some of our production sites, but we are learning quickly every day and I’m confident that with growing experience across the network, volumes will rise in the second quarter,” he told Members of the European Parliament on Thursday.  
Vaccine passports could be here by summer 
EU leaders also made headway on establishing a bloc-wide vaccine passport which would enable countries to reopen in time for the summer holiday season.  
“Everyone agrees that we need one,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel told reporters after the talks, “but that will not mean that only those who have such a passport will be able to travel; about that, no political decisions have been made yet.”
Tourism-dependent economies are keen to launch a passport program so they can cash in on the lucrative summer season. Earlier this week, Greece introduced a digital vaccine certificate and Merkel said German has decided to develop one as well.  
But some worry the passports are premature and more evidence on whether vaccines halt transmission is needed. There are also concerns that such passports discriminate against those who have not been inoculated.