Italy threatened to sue AstraZeneca over vaccine delays before EU started legal action

Vaccine row: Ferrari quizzes MEP on EU AstraZeneca supply

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The EU launched legal action against the vaccine manufacturer AstraZeneca this week, after the European Commission accused it of not respecting its vaccine supply contract. The bloc also accused AstraZeneca of not having a “reliable” plan to deliver on its promised 300 million doses of the vaccine. Alleged production problems meant less than half of the 80 million doses expected in the first quarter of the year turned up in the EU — and the bloc claims AstraZeneca is on track to miss their target for the second quarter of 2021, too.

The EU alleged that the company will send 70 million doses rather than the 180 million promised.

Pursuing legal action was an attempt to “send a message” to AstraZeneca’s chief executive Pascal Soriot, according to an EU official.

But, the developer has hit back and said the EU’s move was “without merit” after it had “fully complied” with its original contract, and confirmed that it would “strongly defend itself in court”.

This is just the latest spat in the ongoing saga between the bloc and AstraZeneca, which began when the EU alleged the supplier had shown favouritism towards providing Britain with its promised quota of vaccines.

Months before all 27 member states climbed on board with the legal action, Italy was already threatening to take the pharmaceutical company to court.

Then Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte accused the vaccine developers of a “serious contractual violation” back in January, after Italy received far fewer doses than expected.

Italy received 3.4 million instead of the eight million jabs originally promised, and so Mr Conte declared he would consider “all legal steps” against AstraZeneca.

He said: “These delays in deliveries are serious contractual violations, which cause enormous damage to Italy and other European countries with direct effect on the lives and health of citizens, and on our economic and social fabric already severely tested by a year of the pandemic.”

The vaccine developer claimed the delays could be traced back to complications at a European manufacturing site, believed to be in Belgium.

But, Mr Conte maintained that the delays were “unacceptable” and the country’s vaccine plan was “developed on the basis of contractual commitments freely agreed and signed by pharmaceutical companies with the European Commission”.

Italy was also notified that it would experience a 29 percent drop in Pfizer doses at this same time and reportedly started to consider legal action against the US drugmaker, too.

Any legal action would be addressed in Belgian courts under the current contracts.

Many members of the public are especially surprised at the EU’s decision to sue AstraZeneca, considering several of the bloc’s member states halted any deployment of the vaccine over blood clot concerns only last month — including Italy, France and Germany.

These nations did not resume use of AstraZeneca until the European Medicines Agency said its investigations of potential side effects found that the vaccine was “safe and effective” — although it is now recommended for those over 50.

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The EU also irked Ireland and Northern Ireland when it temporarily evoked an emergency protocol of the Brexit agreement to prevent any AstraZeneca vaccines travelling to the UK, as it panicked over its job shortfall.

While the protocol move was quickly reversed, Northern Ireland’s First Minister Arlene Foster described the decision as an “incredible act of hostility” from the EU.

AstraZeneca is considered the most accessible of all the vaccines currently available, because it can be stored in a fridge and is not as expensive as its competitors.

The EU had wanted to use this vaccine as the primary jab in its rollout, but the slow production meant it turned to Pfizer to vaccinate its extensive population.

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A spokesperson from the European Commission confirmed that the deadline for the EU to sign up to another contract for another 100 million doses of AstraZeneca’s vaccine had expired.

However, journalists writing for POLITICO explained: “Some ambassadors worried that the EU is essentially giving Pfizer a ‘monopoly’ and said the EU needs to have a broad portfolio of vaccines.”

The AstraZeneca jab is also at the heart of many acts of vaccine diplomacy at the moment.

The US is expected to share approximately 60 million doses of AstraZeneca vaccines with other nations once they’ve been produced and undergone a safety review.

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