The EU is preparing legal action against AstraZeneca over vaccine delivery problems

Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission

Thierry Monasse | Getty Images News | Getty Images

LONDON – The European Union is preparing legal action against AstraZeneca over shortages of supplies of the coronavirus vaccine, according to four people familiar with the case.

The EU and the pharmaceutical giant have been at odds on several occasions this year. Anglo-Swedish company AstraZeneca said it couldn’t deliver as many vaccines as the bloc charged, both during the first and second quarters. This has slowed the roll-out of Covid-19 vaccines in the 27 EU countries.

The European Commission, the EU’s executive arm, told 27 European ambassadors at a meeting Wednesday that it is considering legal action against AstraZeneca over these supply issues, four EU officials, who did not want to be named due to the sensitivity of the matter, told CNBC Thursday. Politico first reported on the committee’s plan on Wednesday.

“The committee wants to act quickly. It’s a matter of days,” one of the officials told CNBC over the phone, adding that there was “strong support” from the ambassadors for the legal action.

The same official explained that only “a few legal questions” were investigated before the trial went ahead.

A second official said the committee is taking this step because it wants to ensure that upcoming deliveries meet expectations.

When CNBC reached out on Thursday, a European Commission spokesperson said, “The point is that we ensure the delivery of an adequate number of doses in line with the company’s previous commitments.”

“Together with Member States, we are looking at all options to make this possible,” said the same spokesperson, without confirming or denying that legal action was envisaged.

In March, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen expressed his disappointment with AstraZeneca at a press conference, saying that “AstraZeneca has unfortunately delivered too little and too little. And this of course has painfully slowed the speed of the vaccination campaign.”

At the time, von der Leyen said the block expected 70 million doses from the company in the second quarter, compared to the 180 million originally expected.

AstraZeneca’s CEO, Pascal Soriot, had told EU lawmakers in February that low yields at EU manufacturing sites were causing the delays.

A medical worker holds a vial of AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination center, amid the coronavirus disease outbreak, in Ronquieres, Belgium, on April 6, 2021.

Yves Herman | Reuters