EU takes AstraZeneca to court: "Every dose counts".

Brussels starts legal proceedings because the company will only deliver a third of the agreed doses

3 min
European Commission President Ursula Von der Leyen, accompanied by Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides.

Brussels"Every dose counts. Every dose saves lives." With this message, Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides announced on Monday that the European Union has definitively started legal proceedings against Anglo-Swedish pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca. Last week the European Commission sounded out European governments to take the initiative, and after obtaining their support the EU executive has decided to file the complaint.

The contract that the European Commission had concluded with AstraZeneca involved the delivery of up to 300 million doses by the end of June, but the company will not deliver even a third. As of March, the drugmaker had only delivered 30 million doses and only plans to deliver 70 million more by June. These defaults have put the European Union's vaccination campaign, which had relied on the drug developed by the Oxford laboratory as one of the main drugs in its vaccine catalogue, on the ropes.

"Certainly, the reason is that some conditions of the contract have not been respected and the company has not been able to develop a reliable strategy to ensure timely delivery of doses," said EU health spokesman Stephan De Keersmaeker. "We want to ensure that there will be a rapid delivery of the sufficient number of doses, to which Europeans are entitled and which have been promised on the basis of the contract," he concluded.

The company's response has not been long in coming. In a statement, AstraZeneca assures that it has not breached the contract and that it will defend itself "firmly" in court. "We believe that this litigation has no reason to exist and we welcome this opportunity to resolve this dispute as soon as possible," the text says. In addition, the pharmaceutical company argued: "Vaccines are difficult to manufacture, as evidenced by the supply challenges faced by several companies in Europe and around the world. We are making progress in addressing the technical challenges and our production is improving, but the production cycle of a vaccine is very long, which means that these improvements take time to lead to an increase in finished doses".

Brussels has waited for the unanimous support from all Member States to file the complaint, a step it actually took last Friday but announced on Monday. The legal battle between the EU and AstraZeneca will probably not have an immediate result, but the will of the Union is that all the agreed doses are delivered taking into account that the breaches of the Anglo-Swedish company have forced Brussels to extend other contracts, mainly with Pfizer / BioNTech, which is one of the most expensive vaccines on the market. In fact, last Friday, the President of the European Commission, Ursula Von der Leyen, visited the Pfizer factory in Puurs (Belgium), from where she recalled that Brussels is about to close a second contract with the American pharmaceutical company to ensure up to 1,800 million additional doses between 2022 and 2023.

The European Commission has been in charge of negotiating with all pharmaceutical companies since the beginning of the pandemic on behalf of all EU states to avoid an internal war between EU governments that would harm smaller states when buying doses. But when the contracts were concluded, the vaccines did not exist. In fact, they were not even approved, and at the time most experts were counting on AstraZeneca's vaccine to be the first to get the green light from regulators. In practice, however, first came Pfizer's and then Moderna's and, in addition, the Oxford drug has been involved in a reputational crisis due to the cases of thrombosis that caused it to temporarily stop being stopped and that now many countries only apply it to older people