The European Union has launched legal action against pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca over delivery shortfalls of its coronavirus vaccine, the European Commission said Monday.
“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.
“Some terms of the contract have not been respected and the company has not been in a position to come up with a reliable strategy to ensure the timely delivery of doses.”
De Keersmaecker said the action was launched “on behalf of the 27 member states that are fully aligned in their support of this procedure”.
“What matters to us in this case is that we want to make sure that there’s a speedy delivery of a sufficient number of doses that European citizens are entitled to, and which have been promised on the basis of the contract,” he said.
The EU executive and AstraZeneca have been at loggerheads as the British-Swedish company’s alleged shortfall of deliveries to the bloc hobbled the early efforts to roll out jabs.
The commission – which has been responsible for procuring vaccines for all of the bloc – informed member states last week of its plans to take the company to court and pressed for support from national governments.
Diplomats said any lawsuit against AstraZeneca would begin in a Belgian court – the jurisdiction agreed under the commission’s contract with the AstraZeneca.
AstraZeneca has so far delivered just 31 million of the 120 million doses it had promised to the EU. It has warned it will likewise provide just 70 million of the 180 million more meant to be delivered over the rest of this year.
AstraZeneca’s French-Australian boss Pascal Soriot has argued that his company’s contract with the EU binds it only to a “best reasonable efforts” clause.
But the commission says the rest of the contract shows greater legal responsibility than that, and EU diplomats and lawmakers have pointed out that the company has largely delivered promised doses to Britain, where it is headquartered.
AstraZeneca later said the legal action was “without merit”.
“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 after the European Commission launched proceedings.
AstraZeneca also said it had “fully complied with the advance purchase agreement with the European Commission”.
It added that in line with AstraZeneca’s forecast, the company is set to deliver almost 50 million doses to European nations by the end of April.
“AstraZeneca regrets the European Commission’s decision to take legal action over the supply of Covid-19 vaccines,” the statement said.
“We look forward to working constructively with the EU Commission to vaccinate as many people as possible.”
Prime Minister Boris Johnson’ spokesman said he was unaware of the specifics around the legal action.
“What I will say is that AstraZeneca has been a hugely strong partner for the UK and in fact, globally, for the work they’re doing,” he told reporters.
“They’ve been a vital part of our vaccine rollout programme, and we continue to look forward to working with them.”