EU prepares lawsuit against AstraZeneca for shortcomings in vaccine sources

The European Commission is in the process of legal action against AstraZeneca (AZN.L) after the drug manufacturer halted deliveries of COVID-19 vaccines to the European Union, sources familiar with the case said.

The move would be another step in an EU plan to cut ties with the Anglo-Swedish drug company after the company repeatedly halted deliveries to the bloc, contributing to major delays in vaccine roll-out in Europe.

News of the lawsuit was first reported by Politico on Thursday. An EU official involved in talks with drug manufacturers confirmed that the EU was preparing to prosecute the company.

“EU countries have to decide whether they (will) participate. The point is that deliveries are completed by the end of the second quarter,” the official said.

The issue was discussed at a meeting with EU diplomats on Wednesday, the official and a diplomat said. Politico, citing five unnamed European diplomats, reported that a majority of EU countries said at the meeting that they would support the company’s prosecution.

“The point is to ensure adequate doses are delivered in line with the company’s previous commitments,” said a European Commission spokesman. “Together with the member states, we are looking into all possibilities to make this possible.”

A request for comment did not receive an immediate response from AstraZeneca on Thursday.

Brussels sent a legal letter to the company in March in the first step of a potential legal proceeding read more.

As the deadline for a response expired this month, a Commission spokesperson said the issue was discussed at a meeting with AstraZeneca, but that the EU was still seeking further clarification from the company on “some unresolved issues”.

The spokesperson did not go further, but details of the letter from Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera indicate that the EU was seeking clarification on what it considered a delayed application to the EU regulator for approval of the vaccine.

Brussels also wondered how AstraZeneca spent more than 224 million euros ($ 270 million) in September on the purchase of vaccine ingredients and for which the company had not provided sufficient documents to confirm the purchases.

Under the contract, the company was committed to using its ‘best reasonable efforts’ to deliver 180 million doses of vaccine to the EU in the second quarter, for a total of 300 million in the period from December to June.

But the company said in a statement on March 12 that it aims to supply only a third of that. The EU letter was sent a week after that statement.

Under the contract, the parties agreed that the Belgian courts would be responsible for resolving unresolved disputes.

The EU has already decided not to take an option to purchase an additional 100 million doses of AstraZeneca under the contract, an EU official said, after delivery delays and safety concerns over very rare cases of blood clots related with the vaccine.

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