EU launches legal action against AstraZeneca over Covid vaccine delays

·2-min read

The European Union's executive branch has confirmed that it has launched legal action against coronavirus vaccine-maker AstraZeneca for failing to respect the terms of its contract with the 27-nation bloc.

The AstraZeneca vaccine has been central to Europe’s immunisation campaign and a linchpin in the global strategy to get vaccines to poorer countries.

But the slow pace of deliveries has frustrated Europeans and has been blamed in part for holding up the EU's vaccine roll-out.

The EU started the suit against the Anglo-Swedish pharmaceuticals company last Friday.

EU lawyers said there had been breaches of the advance purchase agreement.

The EU Commission added: "Some terms of the contract have not been respected and the company has not been in a position to come up with a reliable strategy to ensure a timely delivery of doses.”

AstraZeneca’s contract with the EU foresaw an initial 300 million doses for distribution among member countries, with an option for a further 100 million.

But only 30 million doses were delivered in the first quarter of 2021. The company says it can provide 70 million in the second quarter, rather than the 180 million it had promised.

AstraZeneca said on Monday: "We believe any litigation is without merit and we welcome this opportunity to resolve this dispute as soon as possible."

It maintains it has fully complied with the advance purchase agreement. It added that in line with the company's forecast it will deliver almost 50 million doses to European nations by the end of April.

AstraZeneca has said that its contract with the EU contained vaccine delivery targets, not firm commitments, and that the company was unable to meet them because of early problems with rapidly expanding its production capacity.

Last month, the commission launched a dispute resolution mechanism aimed at amicably addressing its differences with the company.

Brussels said that its focus is to ensure timely deliveries of vaccines.

It has since stated that its option for extra AstraZeneca doses will not be taken up.

Last week, Ursula von der Leyen, the president of the EU Commission, announced that a new vaccine contract is set to be concluded with BioNTech-Pfizer for 1.8 billion doses for the 2021-23 period.

She said the deal would ensure doses for booster shots, vaccines adapted to new variants, and, potentially, vaccines for children and teenagers.

Von der Leyen said that the EU, home to around 450 million people, has passed 123 million vaccinations and is on track to have vaccinated 70 percent of all adults by July.