President of the EU Commission Ursula von der Leyen
Thierry Monasse | Getty Images News | Getty Images
LONDON – The European Union is preparing legal action against AstraZeneca for insufficient supply of its coronavirus vaccine, according to four people familiar with the matter.
The EU and the pharmaceutical company were at odds several times this year. Anglo-Swedish company AstraZeneca said it couldn’t deliver as many vaccines as the block expects in both the first and second quarters. This has delayed the rollout of Covid-19 vaccines in the 27 EU countries.
The European Commission, the EU’s executive branch, told the 27 European ambassadors at a meeting on Wednesday that they were considering legal action against AstraZeneca over these delivery issues, four EU officials who said they refused to be named due to the sensitivity of the issue CNBC Thursday. Politico first reported on the Commission’s plan late Wednesday.
“The commission wants to act quickly. It’s a matter of days,” one of the officials told CNBC over the phone, adding that the ambassadors had given “great support” to the legal process.
The same official stated that “few legal issues” were considered before the trial proceeded.
A second official said the Commission is taking this step to ensure that upcoming deliveries are as expected.
When a European Commission spokesman was contacted by CNBC on Thursday, he said: “It is critical that we ensure the delivery of a sufficient number of cans in line with the company’s previous commitments.”
“Together with the member states, we are examining all possibilities to achieve this,” said the same spokesman, without confirming or denying that legal action has been considered.
In March, the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, expressed her disappointment with AstraZeneca during a press conference and said: “Unfortunately, AstraZeneca has produced too little and delivered too little. And of course this has painfully slowed the vaccination campaign. “
At the time, von der Leyen said the block was expecting 70 million cans from the company in the second quarter, compared to an originally expected 180 million.
Pascal Soriot, CEO of AstraZeneca, told EU lawmakers in February that low yields in EU production facilities were causing the delays.
A medical worker holds a vial containing the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination center in Ronquieres, Belgium, on April 6, 2021.
Yves Herman | Reuters