Where Europe went wrong in its vaccine rollout, and why

There is no single culprit. Rather, a cascade of small decisions have led to increasingly long delays. The bloc was comparatively slow to negotiate contracts with drugmakers. Its regulators were cautious and deliberative in approving some vaccines. Europe also bet on vaccines that did not pan out or, significantly, had supply disruptions. And national governments snarled local efforts in red tape.

But the biggest explanation, the one that has haunted the bloc for months, is as much philosophical as it was operational. European governments are often seen in the United States as free-spending, liberal bastions, but this time it was Washington that threw billions at drugmakers and cosseted their business.

Brussels, by comparison, took a conservative, budget-conscious approach that left the open market largely untouched. And it has paid for it.

In short, the answer today is the same as it was in December, said Dr. Slaoui. The bloc shopped for vaccines like a customer. The United States basically went into business with the drugmakers, spending much more heavily to accelerate vaccine development, testing and production.