EU preparing legal case against AstraZeneca over vaccine shortfalls

James Crisp
·2-min read
AstraZeneca vaccine  - SeongJoon Cho/Bloomberg
AstraZeneca vaccine - SeongJoon Cho/Bloomberg

Four German regions said they would break with national policy and make the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine available to under-60s at their own risk on Thursday. The decision came as EU governments signalled their support for legal action against the British-Swedish company over delivery shortfalls.

Germany recommends the AstraZeneca vaccine is only given to the over-60s because in very rare cases it can cause potentially fatal blood clots in younger people.

Regulators stopped short of an outright ban and said the jab could be given to younger people after a personal consultation with a doctor about the risks.

Bavaria, Saxony, the Berlin regional government and Mecklenburg-West Pomerania are using that loophole so that those prepared to take the risk will not have to wait for the German rollout to reach their age group and to use stockpiles that have built up because of restrictions and public distrust of the jab.

EU governments told the European Commission they supported Brussels’s plan to sue AstraZeneca for failing to hit delivery targets of the coronavirus vaccine.

AstraZeneca has said it will deliver about 70 million doses by the end of the first six months of the year but had pledged to deliver 300 million.

Most of the 27 EU ambassadors representing member states in Brussels gave the long-expected legal action their backing at a meeting on Thursday.

They could give the formal green light to the move later this week, but about five countries, including heavyweights France and Germany, said that the legal action would not guarantee the EU got the contracted doses and could further damage confidence in the vaccine.

Brussels accuses the pharmaceutical company of being in breach of contract, which AstraZeneca denies, amid suspicions that some EU stock may have gone to Britain or other countries.

On Thursday, the commission chief spokesman said no decision on a lawsuit had yet been taken but that Brussels was looking at all options to get the jabs.

The commission has hinted it will not renew AstraZeneca’s contract when it expires. The spokesman said the EU would not exercise a clause in its current contract with AstraZeneca for an extra 100 million doses

Brussels blames shortfalls in AstraZeneca deliveries for the slow pace of its vaccination rollout and has warned that it will block any exports of the University of Oxford jab from the EU until the backlog of orders is cleared.