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5th Mar 2024

EU mulls legal action against AstraZeneca over shortfalls

  • The EU Commission told EU ambassadors it would like to receive feedback from national capitals on joining any legal action, a diplomat said (Photo: Cheshire East Council)

The European Commission said on Thursday (22 April) it has not yet decided whether to take legal action against AstraZeneca for failing to meet its contractual obligations - but repeated that all options are still on the table.

"What matters is that we ensure the delivery of a sufficient number of doses, in line with the company's earlier commitments," a commission spokesperson said.

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"Together with the member states, we are looking at all options to make this happen," he added.

In March, the EU executive sent a legal letter to the company, starting a dispute-resolution process ahead of launching any potential court procedure.

Brussels said it had received a response from AstraZeneca, but issues remain.

"That is why we are discussing with the member states the best steps to take to ensure the delivery of the doses promised," the commission spokesperson also said.

Ever-decreasing deliveries

The British-Swedish pharmaceutical giant was supposed to deliver 90 million doses to EU member states by the end of March. But this figure was cut to 40 million, and then reduced to 30 million.

On top of that, AstraZeneca recently said it will now only be able to deliver 70 million doses in the second quarter (April-June) - instead of 180 million contracted.

The contract signed with the European Commission is on a so-called "best-effort" basis, but EU officials have previously said that this clause was "an objective legal standard" that could be measured by any judge, if necessary.

Earlier this year, the company justified the delays, saying that its factory in Belgium was earlier this year struggling with low yields of the vaccine.

However, according to the commission, the contract with AstraZeneca foresees manufacturing in four separate plants in Europe - two in the UK, one in Belgium and one in Germany.

Additionally, the EU drug regulator approved in late March the use of a factory in the Netherlands to ramp up the production.

Meanwhile, the EU is seeking clarification on how AstraZeneca spent over €224m granted by the EU in September to buy vaccine ingredients, Reuters reported.

The possibility of initiating legal action against the company was "generally" discussed on Wednesday at a meeting with EU ambassadors, in which some delegations supported the idea, some (such as Germany and France) asked for further information, and others did not intervene, an EU diplomat told EUobserver.

Some delegations said a thorough discussion was necessary among EU ambassadors, or even at EU Council level, before any decision is taken, the source added.

The EU Commission told EU ambassadors on Wednesday that it would like to receive feedback by the end of the week on whether they would associate themselves with the legal case, another EU diplomat said.

Brussels regularly informs representatives of member states on the state of play of vaccine deliveries, including contacts with the pharmaceutical companies.

The EU executive could itself sue the company, without consensus from member states, since the institution signed the contract on behalf of the bloc.

Under the contract, Belgian courts would be in charge of settling unresolved disputes.

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