EU Readies Legal Action Against Astra Over Vaccine Shortfall

The European Union’s executive arm is preparing to start legal action within days against AstraZeneca Plc after the company’s failure to hit vaccine delivery targets undermined the bloc’s inoculation campaign.

The move has been discussed for weeks by the bloc’s ambassadors, according to two officials familiar with the discussions. It’s aimed at ensuring the company delivers on commitments for this quarter, and the European Commission has asked governments to join the process, but some aren’t fully on board, according to one of the officials.

EU Readies Legal Action Against Astra Over Vaccine Shortfall

Astra delivered just 30 million doses in the first quarter, compared with an original target of 120 million. The shortfall sparked a huge row with the EU, with the bloc accusing the company of breaching their contract. It introduced tighter restrictions on vaccine exports as the crisis escalated, and became embroiled in a battle with the U.K. after demanding access to that country’s Astra supplies.

The vaccine contract, which was published late January, suggested that U.K. manufacturing sites could be used to accelerate EU supplies if needed. However, the document also said that the company only needs to make “best reasonable efforts” to resolve problems.

“No decision has yet been taken with regard to legal actions,” Commission Spokesman Stefan de Keersmaecker told reporters on Thursday. “What matters for us and for all the member states is that we can ensure a timely delivery of a sufficient number of doses by the company.

An AstraZeneca spokesperson said by email that the company wasn’t aware of any legal proceedings and continues to hold regular discussions with the commission and member states. Politico reported earlier on the timing of the legal proceedings.

While the EU vaccination rollout is now accelerating, the bloc’s slow start means it’s playing catchup with countries such as the U.K. and the U.S. The bloc still aims to inoculate 70% of its population by the end of the summer.

EU Readies Legal Action Against Astra Over Vaccine Shortfall

The EU is also prioritizing other vaccine producers for future deliveries, and is in in talks with Pfizer Inc. and BioNTech for as many as 1.8 billion additional vaccine doses through 2023.

While the commission said this is because it wants to focus on vaccines using messenger-RNA technologies, it’s also hinted this isn’t the only reason. In a statement last week announcing the Pfizer-BioNTech orders, Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said that producer “has proven to be a reliable partner.”

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