The European Commission's vaccine debacle - the escalation of a commercial dispute with a single company into an international incident involving one of the union's most sensitive borders - has masked a deeper vaccine problem for the EU as a whole: the lack of follow-through.

And that is not really the European Commission's fault. It is not built to do what is being asked of it - to act swiftly to ramp up an industry to respond to a public health crisis, spending whatever it takes along the way.

Instead it is a hyper-cautious organisation that moves by finding carefully worked out consensus among member states. It is expected to live within a small budget (around 2.5% of all government sector spending in Europe), and is habitually whipped by politicians for spending even that modest amount (all of it approved in advance by other politicians).

And it has next to no powers in the field of human health: the supply of health services is done by member states. The EU facilitates things like the European Health Insurance Card to swap bills easily between member states, benefitting citizens who travel within the union. 

And that's about it. Anything else relates to the marketing of medical products and services in the single market, aided by the specialist agency, the European Medicines Agency.

Last June, it was asked to buy vaccines on behalf of the member states: it looked better than the big states looking after themselves, and there was a public health justification, in that the more countries were vaccinated, the better for disease control. 

And there was an economic justification - to restore all the economies of the single market together, getting people back to work and the intense travel patterns that Europeans rely on.

But it has been a story of a good idea meets an organisation that is not equipped to drive it. In its risk-averse, penny pinching way (a way that has been beaten into it over the decades), the Commission picked the right vaccine makers, but spent time arguing them into accepting liability for any problems their products may throw up, and driving a hard bargain on prices.

That has certainly been good for saving money for member states. Except that it doesn't save any money if this approach leads - as it has done - to delays in delivering the vaccines. Because a slow roll-out of vaccines means a slow recovery of the economy. 

Saving two or three bucks a shot by haggling on price is a pittance when set against the economic devastation wrought by the unchecked virus.

But there were no audible complaints from member state governments last August, when the contracts were announced. They seemed content with the large numbers of doses - far more than Europe needed, the surplus promised to the developing world.

And the authorisation process by the European Medicines Agency was the one chosen by the member states - one that required a fairly full set of clinical trials to test for safety and efficacy. It is easy to bring a product into public use relatively quickly if you cut corners, as the British have done.

It is relatively easy to spread the available vaccine wider if you only give the second dose after 12 weeks, not the manufacturer's recommended three-week interval. 

In both cases, the British government have taken a calculated risk. It may well pay off. Or it may have calculated wrongly.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks to patients and staff at a vaccination centre in Bristol

There is far too little data available now to make that call. It probably won't be until March that it becomes available - and needs to be internationally comparable. Until then, all is political noise here in the UK.

The main problem with the EU approach appears to be its lack of joined up operation. Which is not easy to achieve, given the organisational structure of the EU and the division of powers among it and its member states.

But it might just be time to start shouting for an EU "Vaccine Czar".

Once it was all the rage in American politics (about 30 years ago), to appoint someone to be given huge powers to push through particular policies - and they reached for the golden age of Russian autocracy for the name: a Czar. Someone who commanded, and it was done. So we had Czars for this, that and the other popping up (or being called for) in the land of the free.

Now the Americans, under that most Czar-like President Donald Trump, may again have pointed to the way to deal with the vaccine issue: Operation Warp Speed.

The National Guard work as motorists are lined up at a new large scale Covid-19 vaccination site in Los Angeles

This was not a single supremo, but rather a small, tight body - heavily staffed by military logistics officers and industry experts - to grab hold of every aspect of vaccine production and distribution, and drive through all problems, delays and impediments to deliver vaccines, and then produce them in large numbers.

Although far from perfect, and prone to over-promising and under delivering, the US Warp Speed operation has nevertheless delivered well.

Certainly far more than the EU has. And the comparison is a lot more valid than looking at the British case - the scale of the US population and economy make it a better comparison for the scale of the challenge facing the EU.

When the Americans did get around to the Warp Speed Plan (around May), the idea was to harness all the resources of the US public and private sectors in a way that would mimic the Manhattan Project - the splitting of the atom and the development of a war-ending weapon within record time.

To beat the virus they threw money at the problem - last October Bloomberg reported the US had committed $18bn against the €3bn for the EU. 

The money went through the entire supply chain - not just the vaccine developers and manufacturers, but glass vial makers, syringe producers, cold storage companies, the companies that make the machines that vaccine makers use to make vaccines in.

It was pretty comprehensive, and seems to have allowed a faster roll-out of vaccines than in the EU, where manufacturing problems that were suddenly revealed by AstraZeneca have undermined the early roll-out of vaccination. (AstraZeneca's vaccine is not approved for use in the US - the company has not finished the clinical trials required for FDA approval, and does not expect to submit an application until April. Critics of the FDA approach in the US point to the speed at which the EU approved the vaccine).

The EU's vaccine problems appear to stem from a lack of sustained focus across the entire industrial spectrum, not so much from development - the world's first proven vaccine came from Germany after all - but in the ramping up of production to meet the vast worldwide demand. Reports of shortages of glass vials and syringes are scarcely believable, but speak to a lack of central drive to ensure the maximum production and distribution.

Maybe a Czar is needed - someone who heads a tight group of focused, driven and incentivised people who know how the pharmaceutical industry works, how European industry works, how the EU and European national governments and their healthcare systems work, and knows how to get the best out of Europe's very advanced logistics systems. 

All the bits are here, but the whole is considerably less than the sum of the parts.

They tell us things will get sorted and vaccine supplies will ramp up rapidly in a few months' time. But they might get there faster if a high powered taskforce - with an identifiable and accountable public face - takes charge of all aspects of the vaccine race in the EU. 

This is a one-off special project, not a model for the functioning of the EU or its components. But the need for speed is now critical - to save lives in the member states, to save the economies by getting people back out there quickly, to save the EU by showing it can move as quickly as other big players when it needs to.

And with the Russians and Chinese already exporting their vaccines to developing countries (and even EU member state Hungary), there is a strategic imperative too: a lot of countries, particularly in Africa, have been relying on Europe, with its big pharmaceutical industry and resources, to come good with the vaccines to save their people and economies. 

It is absolutely true that nobody is safe until everybody is safe. In the global vaccine propaganda war that is being waged by Putin, Xi and Johnson, the EU has too much at stake to allow itself to fall further behind.

Time to bring on the Czar.