EU preps legal action against AstraZeneca for COVID-19 vaccine shortfalls: report

AstraZeneca
(AstraZeneca)

AstraZeneca has maintained a rocky relationship with the EU after failing to live up to its COVID-19 vaccine delivery expectations. Now, the two appear headed to court over the issue. 

The European Commission is reportedly readying legal proceedings against the vaccine developer for failing to provide its promised supply of COVID-19 doses to the region, Politico reports, citing six EU diplomats familiar with the matter. 

AstraZeneca originally committed to sending Europe 90 million doses of its vaccine in the first three months of the year. But after struggling to get its supply chain up to speed, the company knocked that projection down to 30 million. 

The prognosis hasn’t improved much since. AstraZeneca has said it'll deliver 100 million doses by the end of June, far short of the 300 million it originally committed. 

Defending his company back in January, AstraZeneca CEO Pascal Soriot said the supply contracts call for the company to make its "best effort" to deliver. The deals don't require deliveries of a specific number of doses on a set timeline, he said at the time.

RELATED: AstraZeneca again cuts coronavirus vaccine delivery targets in Europe

The latest spat between the EU and AstraZeneca comes as the 27-member bloc tries to distance itself from the U.K.-based drugmaker. Wednesday, Reuters reported that the EU has decided not to exercise options for 300 million additional doses of COVID-19 vaccines from AstraZeneca and its rival Johnson & Johnson. The EU will instead move toward using doses from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna. 

The prospect of a lawsuit was first raised at a meeting of ambassadors Wednesday where a majority of member states said they’d support the legal proceedings, according to Politico’s report, although not all EU members appeared to agree. A handful of countries, including large members like Germany and France, raised concerns about the timing and purpose of the legal efforts. 

According to some diplomats, it’s unclear whether the lawsuit would result in AstraZeneca meeting its contractual agreements. On top of that, the public discord between the EU and AstraZeneca could further sow doubt about the drugmaker’s vaccine, Politico reports. 

The commission is aiming to file the lawsuit as early as Friday. An AstraZeneca spokesperson told Reuters that the company wasn’t aware of the lawsuit "and continues to hold regular discussions on supply with the commission and member states.” 

RELATED: AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine linked to rare blood clots, EMA official says, but benefits still outweigh risks

The rollout of AstraZeneca’s vaccine has hit snag after snag in Europe, where countries like Denmark have given up on the shot completely. Others have limited its use to certain age groups after safety concerns mounted over reports of rare blood clots.

Europe’s drug regulator, the European Medicines Agency, has since drawn a link between the vaccine and the rare blood clots, although the agency has maintained the shot’s benefits still outweigh its risks. The rollout is continuing, and more than 31 million doses of the shot have been administered so far in Europe, according to data from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control.