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EU launches legal action against AstraZeneca over vaccine deliveries

The Commission confirmed legal action against the company was launched on Friday.

Updated Apr 26th 2021, 1:53 PM

THE EUROPEAN UNION has launched legal action against pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca over delivery shortfalls of its coronavirus vaccine, the European Commission said today. 

“The commission has started last Friday a legal action against the company AstraZeneca on the basis of breaches of the advanced purchase agreement,” EU spokesman Stefan De Keersmaecker said, adding the action was launched on behalf of the 27 member states.

European Commissioner for Health and Food Safety Stella Kyriakides said on Twitter: “Our priority is to ensure Covid-19 vaccine deliveries take place to protect the health of [the European Union].”

“Every vaccines dose counts. Every vaccine dose saves lives,” she said. 

Under a disputed contract between AstraZeneca and the European Union, the Anglo-Swedish pharma firm AstraZeneca had initially been expected to deliver over 100 million doses of its Covid-19 vaccine, developed with the University of Oxford, to EU countries in the first three months of the year.

But due to a production issue, the company said, it delivered 29.4 million doses.

AstraZeneca defended the shortfall, saying that its contract with the European Union said it would do its “best effort” to deliver supplies on time. The EU argued that the contract also states that AstraZeneca’s British factories should be used to supply vaccines to the EU, and that the contract states that no other contract (ie, the UK-AZ contact) should interfere with AstraZeneca’s commitments to supply the EU with its vaccines.

There has been no such shortfall in AstraZeneca vaccine deliveries to the UK, who had included a clause with the millions in funding it supplied to develop the Oxford Covid-19 vaccine.

The European Commission and AstraZeneca had been engaged in a dispute mechanism for a few weeks, which is a process contained in the contract. 

In response, the company said today that is regrets the Commission’s decision to launch legal action and said it believes the litigation is “without merit”. 

“AstraZeneca has fully complied with the Advance Purchase Agreement with the European Commission and will strongly defend itself in court. We believe any litigation is without merit and we welcome this opportunity to resolve this dispute as soon as possible,” the company said in a statement.

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“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.

“Much work is ahead of us in the EU and elsewhere, as we continue to deal with the terrible pandemic and the roll out of vaccination programmes. AstraZeneca has an important role to play, and our intent remains to do that fairly and equitably at no profit during the pandemic in the EU and around the world.”

In the second quarter of the year, AstraZeneca had been expected to supply 813,000 doses to Ireland: 224,000 in April, 262,000 in May, and 327,000 in June.

But last week, the HSE revealed that the delivery of AstraZeneca vaccines for this week would be reduced significantly from 45,000 to 9,000 doses.

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