European Commission to take legal action against AstraZeneca over COVID-19 vaccine supplies

By Rachel Arthur contact

- Last updated on GMT

Pic:getty/michalchodyra
Pic:getty/michalchodyra

Related tags: Astrazeneca

The European Commission has decided to bring legal proceedings against AstraZeneca, it confirmed today. But AstraZeneca says the litigation is without merit, adding it will ‘strongly defend itself’ in court.

The European Commission accuses AstraZeneca of a breach of contract over COVID-19 vaccine deliveries.

The announcement follows months of spats as Europe seeks to protect its vaccine supplies: such as mounting export controls​ and inspecting factories for extra supplies.​  

'Best reasonable efforts'

AstraZeneca was due to deliver 180 million vaccines doses to the EU in Q2 2021, totalling 300 million from December to June. However, AstraZeneca now plans to deliver one-third of that by the end of June, of which about 70 million would be in the second quarter, according to reporting from Reuters.

The contract with the EU depends on AstraZeneca’s ‘best reasonable efforts’ to deliver the doses.

Confirming the legal action on Twitter, Stella Kyriakides, European Commissioner for Health and Food Safety, said the commission’s ‘priority is to ensure COVID-19 vaccine deliveries take place to protect the health of Europeans’. She added that the measure had been backed by all 27 Member States.

AstraZeneca says that ‘any litigation is without merit and… welcomes this opportunity to resolve this dispute as soon as possible’

“Following an unprecedented year of scientific discovery, very complex negotiations, and manufacturing challenges, our company is about to deliver almost 50m doses to European countries by the end of April, in line with our forecast,"​ said a statement from the company. 

"AstraZeneca has fully complied with the Advance Purchase Agreement with the European Commission and will strongly defend itself in court.

“We appreciate the work done by political leaders and healthcare professionals across the Member States that has made the rollout of vaccination campaigns in Europe possible, and we are committed to helping as much as we can. 

Vaccines are difficult to manufacture, as evidenced by the supply challenges several companies are facing in Europe and around the world. We are making progress addressing the technical challenges and our output is improving, but the production cycle of a vaccine is very long which means these improvements take time to result in increased finished vaccine doses.

“We look forward to working constructively with the EU Commission to vaccinate as many people as possible.

"Many thousands of our employees working around the clock have been driven by a passion to help the world at no profit; they remain firmly committed to delivering our vaccine to the people of Europe and around the world.”

The EU’s portfolio of COVID-19 vaccines also includes Pfizer/BioNTech, Moderna, Johnson & Johnson, Curevac and Sanofi-GSK (the first three of which are authorized for use in the bloc). It is now increasingly relying on Pfizer/BioNTech: exercising its option for 100 million additional doses​ this month as well as drafting a mega order for 1.8 billion doses​ over the next two years, which is expected to be finalised in the coming days.

Related topics: Markets & Regulations, COVID-19

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