Solidarity isn’t an easy sell in Europe, as the E.U. lags in the vaccine race.

As the European Union began its campaign to line up vaccines, it was slower off the mark, focused on prices while the United States and Britain made money no object, and succumbed to an abundance of regulatory caution. All of those things have left the bloc flat-footed as drugmakers fall behind on their promised orders.

But the 27 countries of the European Union are also attempting something they have never tried before and have broken yet another barrier in their deeper integration — albeit shakily — by casting their lot together in the vaccine hunt.

In doing so, they have inverted the bloc’s usual power equation. Bigger, richer countries like Germany and France — which could have afforded to sign contracts directly with drugmakers, as the United States and Britain did — saw their vaccine campaigns delayed by the more cumbersome joint effort, while smaller countries wound up with better supply terms than they were likely to have negotiated on their own.

For the bulk of E.U. nations, that experiment has been beneficial. But it has not necessarily been greeted happily in the wealthiest countries, and it has left leaders like Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany and President Emmanuel Macron of France open to criticism at home.

They and E.U. leaders have nonetheless stood by their decision and the impulse for solidarity, even as the finger-pointing has begun.

“What would people have said if Germany and France had been in competition with one another for the purchase or production of vaccines? That would have been chaos,” Mr. Macron said at a news conference on Friday after a virtual meeting with Ms. Merkel. “That would have been counterproductive, economically and from a public health perspective, because we will only come out of this pandemic when we have vaccinated enough people in Europe.”

But even as the leaders of Europe’s traditional power duo talked up the 2.3 billion doses ordered as an indication of the wisdom of a joint approach, they conceded that a full campaign could not be expected before March.

Just over 3 percent of E.U. nationals had received at least one vaccine dose by the end of last week, compared with 17 percent in Britain and 9 percent in the United States.

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