The executive branch of the European Union said on Monday it had initiated legal action against coronavirus vaccine maker AstraZeneca for failing to comply with the terms of its contract with the 27-nation bloc.
The AstraZeneca vaccine has been at the heart of the European immunization campaign and a pivot in the global strategy to obtain vaccines in the poorest countries. But the slow pace of deliveries frustrated Europeans and they held the company responsible for partially delaying the vaccine’s launch.
European Commission spokesman Stefan De Keersmaecker said last Friday Brussels started legal action against AstraZeneca “on the basis of violations of the advance purchase agreement”.
He said the reason for the lawsuit was that “some terms of the contract were not met” and that “the company was unable to come up with a reliable strategy to ensure timely delivery of doses.”
AstraZeneca’s contract with the EU, signed by the Commission on behalf of member countries last August, provided for 300 million initial doses for distribution among member countries, with an option for an additional 100 million.
The British-Swedish pharmaceutical company hoped to supply 80 million doses in the first quarter of 2021, but only 30 million were sent. According to the Commission, the company is now expected to deliver 70 million doses in the second quarter, instead of the 180 million it had promised.
The company will “defend itself strongly” in court
AstraZeneca said in a statement that it “deplores” the Commission’s decision to take legal action and that it will “defend itself vigorously” in court.
“We believe that any dispute is without merit and welcome this opportunity to resolve this dispute as soon as possible,” said AstraZeneca. He said deliveries are improving “after an unprecedented year of scientific breakthroughs, highly complex negotiations and manufacturing challenges.”
“We are making progress in addressing the technical challenges and our production is improving, but the production cycle of a vaccine is very long, which means that these improvements take time to lead to an increase in the final doses of the vaccine,” he said. said.
The company said it wants to continue “working constructively with the European Commission to vaccinate as many people as possible. Many thousands of our employees who work around the clock have been driven by a passion to help the nonprofit world.” .
The AstraZeneca vaccine is cheaper and easier to use than rival shots from Pfizer and Moderna and has been approved for use in over 50 countries, including the 27 EU countries and the World Health Organization. US authorities are still evaluating the vaccine.
The Commission has publicly criticized the company on several occasions and last month launched a dispute resolution mechanism aimed at addressing their differences amicably. Brussels said its goal is to ensure timely deliveries of vaccines.
He has since stated that his option for extra doses of AstraZeneca will not be accepted.
Last week, Commission President Ursula von der Leyen announced the conclusion of a new vaccine contract with BioNTech-Pfizer for 1.8 billion doses for the period 2021-23. He said the deal will guarantee doses for booster shots, vaccines adapted to new variants, and potentially vaccines for children and adolescents.
Von der Leyen said the EU, which is home to some 450 million people, has “already passed 123 million vaccinations” and is on track to vaccinate 70% of all adults by July. Previously, the target was September.