The European Commission is getting ready to launch legal proceedings against vaccine producer AstraZeneca. Politico reports that according to six EU diplomats, the EC raised the matter at a meeting of EU ambassadors, during which the majority of EU countries said they would support suing the company on the grounds that it massively under-delivered pledged coronavirus vaccine doses to the bloc.
However, five to six countries, including large states like Germany and France, raised concerns about launching a lawsuit against AstraZeneca, according to several diplomats. One of the concerns, as one diplomat explained, is that a lawsuit wouldn’t guarantee that the EU got more doses. “What can we do in practical terms if AstraZeneca says, ‘Take a closer look at our production sites: We just have no vaccines,'” the diplomat said, adding that some countries were “not assured this is enforceable.”
Politico reports that further, some ambassadors warned that a lawsuit would further diminish citizens’ trust in the vaccine because it would sully the image of AstraZeneca, according to the diplomat. In “emotional terms,” the diplomat said the EC understandably wants to hit back at the vaccine producer over the delivery shortfalls – but added that the company is also needed in the global response against COVID-19.
According to some of the diplomats, the EC also hasn’t elaborated to EU countries on its legal reasoning for such a move, prompting intense debate at the meeting. One diplomat said the lawsuit would address the company’s failure to meet the deliveries schedule set out in its EU advance-purchasing agreement, while another said the point is to make it mandatory for AstraZeneca to provide the doses set out in its EU contract.
Politico reports that another point of contention among some countries is that the issue is not just contractual but political – and as such, requires member countries to be more involved in the contracts that the EC negotiates with companies.
AstraZeneca stoked the ire of the EU in January when it admitted it couldn’t ship to the bloc the number of doses initially anticipated. By the end of the first quarter, the company delivered just 30m doses to EU countries, rather than the 100m doses pledged in its EU contract. The shortages severely hampered vaccination campaigns across EU countries.
Politico reports that the company has projected it’ll deliver roughly 70m doses by the end of the second quarter of this year, when it was supposed to have delivered the entire 300m doses secured in the EU contract.