EU capitals have been asked by the European commission to back legal action against AstraZeneca by the end of the week over an alleged breach of its contractual obligations to supply member states with its Covid vaccine.
At a meeting with commission officials on Wednesday, diplomats from some member states raised concerns about the wisdom of the move, warning against rushing into a decision that might further undermine confidence in the vaccine.
The Anglo-Swedish company remains a key supplier from which the bloc is expecting a further 70m vaccine doses in the second quarter of this year. But, according to a diplomatic source, the commission’s vaccine steering board, containing representatives of all participating member states, was still asked to sign off on action by Friday in order to allow a claim to be filed.
A spokesperson for the commission said no legal action had yet been taken.
One diplomat said he believed there was sufficient support for a legal claim despite concerns being aired by France and Germany, among others. He said more than 20 member states had indicated they would back a legal claim.
AstraZeneca delivered less than 30m of the expected 120m doses to EU member states in the first quarter of this year, and refused to redirect vaccines produced in the UK to make up for the losses. The commission sent a letter to the company on 19 March, described as a “a notice for dispute settlement”.
According the contract signed between EU and the company, if a dispute arises one of the parties shall first notify the problem with a letter. After 20 days from the written notice, they “shall meet and attempt to resolve the dispute by good faith negotiations”.
On Thursday Ireland’s health minister, Stephen Donnelly, said Dublin would back a legal claim by the commission. Speaking to the Irish parliament, he said: “With regard to AstraZeneca, a legal case has been initiated by the commission and earlier this week I have joined Ireland as one of the parties to that legal case, specifically around AstraZeneca’s complete failure to meet its delivery and contractual agreements for April, May and June.”
This month the commissioner leading the EU executive’s vaccine taskforce, Thierry Breton, told the Guardian that the bloc would have had even greater success than the UK in vaccinating its citizens if it had not had supply problems. The EU is expecting more than 300m doses to be delivered by all its suppliers over the next three months.
Speaking to the environment committee of the European parliament on Thursday morning, the health commissioner, Stella Kyriakides, said she was confident that the bloc would hit its target of vaccinating 70% of the population by the end of August.
She said: “This is ambitious but I believe that it is feasible. We have a much accelerated rollout for quarter two. There were big challenges in quarter one and we are seeing this moving.”