EU takes legal action against AstraZeneca over 'complete failure' on vaccine delivery

22 April 2021, 08:53 | Updated: 22 April 2021, 16:06

The European Union is taking legal action against AstraZeneca over delays in delivery of their Covid-19 vaccine.
The European Union is taking legal action against AstraZeneca over delays in delivery of their Covid-19 vaccine. Picture: PA

By Joe Cook

The European Union have begun legal action against AstraZeneca over delays in delivering doses of the Covid-19 vaccine, the Irish health minister has confirmed.

Speaking in the Irish parliament Stephen Donnelly said Ireland had joined "as one of the parties to that legal case, specifically around AstraZeneca's complete failure to meet its delivery and contractual agreements for April, May and June."

Earlier on Thursday, Politico reported that a majority of countries in the EU said they would support suing the company amidst widespread anger at the pace at which AstraZeneca has fulfilled its contracts.

However, a spokesperson for AstraZeneca said they are "not aware of any legal proceedings" and that the company "continues to hold regular discussions on supply with the Commission and Member States.”

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In the first three months of 2021 AstraZeneca delivered 30 million doses to EU countries, compared to 100 million pledged in the contract.

The company projects this will rise to 70 million doses by the end of June, down from 300 million pledged in the contract, Politico reports.

But the pharmaceutical giant says its Belgian production plant has faced production issues and that while they will use "best reasonable efforts" to meet the contract, there is no automatic requirement to send jabs from other factories - such as in the UK - to the EU.

AstraZeneca chief executive Pascal Soriot argued in January that supply chain "teething issues" were fixed in the UK ahead of the bloc because Britain signed a contract three months earlier.

However, the EU previously said it rejects "the logic of first come first served", adding: "That may work at the neighbourhood butchers but not in contracts."

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The AstraZeneca-EU contracts state the company will make its 'best reasonable effort' to produce the Covid-19 jab.
The AstraZeneca-EU contracts state the company will make its 'best reasonable effort' to produce the Covid-19 jab. Picture: AstraZeneca
European Commission President Ursula Von Der Leyen previously threatened vaccine export blocks if AstraZeneca did not provide the expected number of doses.
European Commission President Ursula Von Der Leyen previously threatened vaccine export blocks if AstraZeneca did not provide the expected number of doses. Picture: PA

The legal action is only the latest development in the long-running dispute with between the EU and AstraZeneca.

In January, President of the European Council Charles Michel called on the bloc to take "robust action to secure its supply of vaccines", including making "use of all legal means and enforcement measures at our disposal under the Treaties".

European Commission president Ursula Von Der Leyen also threatened to block exports of the AstraZeneca vaccine in March, if the British-Swedish pharmaceutical giant did not "honour" its contract.

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Ms von der Leyen told reporters: "Companies have to honour their contract to the European Union before they export to other regions in the world. This is of course the case with AstraZeneca.

"I think it is clear that the company (AstraZeneca) has to catch up and honour the contract it has with the EU member states before it can engage again in exporting vaccines."

The EU rollout of the AstraZeneca vaccine has also been hit with delays from within, amidst concerns that the jab may be linked with very rare blood clots.

Last Tuesday, Denmark became the first European country to stop using the jab amidst all age groups, despite advice from regulators that the that it is overwhelmingly safe.

The overall benefits of the vaccine in preventing Covid-19 "outweigh the risks of side effects", the European Medicines Agency said.

LBC has contacted AstraZeneca for comment.

This article is being updated.