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Coronavirus: EU sues AstraZeneca over vaccine delivery delays

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Read Time: 4 minutes
A woman receives an AstraZeneca shot in Madrid

The European Union has launched legal action against the coronavirus vaccine manufacturer AstraZeneca.

The European Commission – the EU’s executive branch – said it was suing the company for not respecting its vaccine supply contract, and for not having a “reliable” plan to ensure timely deliveries.

AstraZeneca said the move was “without merit”.

It said it would “strongly defend itself in court”.

The legal action marks an escalation in a long-running dispute between the two sides over the supply of coronavirus vaccines.

Some in the bloc have claimed that AstraZeneca has shown preferential treatment to the UK – but the company has denied this.

Meanwhile, the US has announced that it will share up to 60 million doses of its AstraZeneca vaccine with other countries as they become available. The doses will be able to be exported in the coming months after a federal safety review, AP news agency reports.

What do we know about the legal action?

A European Commission spokesman said the action was launched on Friday, with the backing of all 27 member states.

It stems from a deal the commission signed last August for 300 million doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, with an option for 100 million more.

Earlier this year, AstraZeneca said its supplies would be reduced because of production problems. Of 80 million doses planned for delivery in the first quarter of 2021, only about 30 million were sent.

According to the European Commission, the company is set to provide 70 million doses in the second quarter of 2021 instead of the 180 million that were initially arranged.

“The terms of the contract, or some terms of the contract, have not been respected,” the spokesman said. “We want to make sure that there’s a speedy delivery of a sufficient number of doses… which have been promised on the basis of the contract.”

Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides tweeted that the commission’s priority was to “ensure Covid-19 vaccine deliveries take place to protect the health of the European Union”.

“Every vaccine dose counts. Every vaccine dose saves lives,” she wrote.

One EU official told Reuters news agency that the move was taken to “send a message” to AstraZeneca’s chief executive Pascal Soriot.

CORONAVIRUSGlobal vaccine rollout

Click or tap the mapReset

Total doses per 100 peopleNo data01020304050+Scroll tableFilter table:                                     The World                                     Africa                                     Asia                                     Europe                                     Middle East                                     Latin America & Caribbean                                     North America                                     Oceania                                 

LocationDoses per 100 peopleTotal doses
World13.21,025,601,967
US68.4228,661,408
China15.6226,269,993
India10.1139,185,173
UK69.246,253,754
Brazil17.938,027,113
Germany30.425,446,941
Turkey25.121,130,963
France28.719,535,141
Indonesia6.818,570,974
Russia12.418,152,707
Italy29.417,751,562
Mexico12.716,410,034
Spain30.514,266,251
Chile73.914,131,492
Canada31.912,045,041
Israel120.210,401,437
Poland27.310,343,967
United Arab Emirates103.310,215,846
Morocco24.28,941,120
Saudi Arabia23.78,235,166
Bangladesh4.87,954,176
Argentina15.87,134,949
Hungary54.55,268,968
Netherlands29.95,128,167
Romania25.14,832,203
Colombia8.64,400,615
Belgium29.63,431,848
Serbia47.83,253,039
Portugal29.63,018,383
Austria31.42,827,613
Czech Republic26.42,822,491
Greece27.12,821,625
Sweden27.72,796,778
Japan2.12,718,090
South Korea4.62,371,793
Switzerland26.32,273,981
Singapore37.82,213,888
Cambodia12.12,027,968
Nepal6.81,989,248
Australia7.61,934,077
Denmark30.71,780,892
Philippines1.61,739,656
Finland30.41,683,060
Uruguay46.11,602,385
Dominican Republic13.91,509,898
Norway27.61,496,745
Slovakia26.51,444,284
Azerbaijan14.01,423,295
Qatar49.11,415,761
Peru4.31,412,281
Ireland28.11,385,753
Malaysia4.01,305,161
Pakistan0.61,300,000
Bahrain69.41,180,735
Nigeria0.61,167,837
Thailand1.61,149,666
Myanmar1.91,040,000
Kazakhstan5.31,001,805
Sri Lanka4.3925,242
Lithuania32.2877,595
Kuwait20.1860,000
Ghana2.7842,521
Croatia19.4795,597
Kenya1.4750,471
Ecuador4.2732,717
Jordan7.2732,052
Bulgaria10.4723,240
El Salvador10.8698,569
Costa Rica13.7698,327
Mongolia20.7678,692
Iran0.8667,202
Egypt0.6660,000
Bolivia5.6656,613
Panama14.4619,190
Slovenia28.1584,303
Ukraine1.2528,033
Bhutan62.2479,686
Uzbekistan1.4458,555
Ethiopia0.4430,000
Lebanon6.1415,562
Estonia30.9410,485
Albania13.9400,064
Senegal2.4398,941
Angola1.2395,447
Zimbabwe2.5372,099
Tunisia3.1368,837
Maldives66.8360,997
Rwanda2.7349,702
Belarus3.5328,500
Malta70.6311,559
Iraq0.7298,377
South Africa0.5292,623
Uganda0.6268,317
Malawi1.4267,293
Latvia13.7257,586
Venezuela0.9250,000
Oman4.8244,821
Afghanistan0.6240,000
Cyprus27.0236,265
Palestinian Territories4.2213,989
Vietnam0.2209,632
New Zealand3.8183,351
Luxembourg27.7173,153
Guatemala0.9165,271
Togo1.9160,000
Sudan0.3140,227
Laos1.9137,026
Jamaica4.6135,473
Guinea1.0129,345
Guinea1.0129,345
Seychelles123.2121,165
Moldova3.0120,254
Somalia0.7117,567
Mauritius9.2117,323
Ivory Coast0.4117,227
Guyana14.4113,596
Iceland33.2113,330
Paraguay1.498,666
Algeria0.275,000
Barbados25.071,881
Isle of Man81.969,658
Gibraltar201.867,972
Cayman Islands97.063,774
Nicaragua0.961,625
Montenegro9.559,911
Honduras0.657,639
Mozambique0.257,305
Fiji6.256,000
Equatorial Guinea4.055,799
Bermuda84.052,337
North Macedonia2.551,853
Guernsey69.546,587
Sierra Leone0.644,347
Taiwan0.242,672
Belize9.939,330
Botswana1.636,652
Suriname6.236,503
Georgia0.936,056
Eswatini2.731,846
Antigua and Barbuda30.429,754
Andorra34.226,414
Mali0.126,226
San Marino76.726,025
Turks and Caicos Islands62.824,300
Saint Lucia13.023,941
Dominica32.023,055
Monaco58.522,953
Faroe Islands35.417,280
Gambia0.716,735
Trinidad and Tobago1.216,462
Kosovo0.00016,132
Lesotho0.716,000
Bahamas3.815,000
Bosnia and Herzegovina0.515,000
Congo0.314,297
Zambia0.07614,012
St Vincent and the Grenadines12.513,852
Greenland22.712,859
Grenada11.312,764
Saint Kitts and Nevis22.311,848
Liechtenstein27.410,457
Djibouti1.010,246
Sao Tome and Principe4.49,724
Anguilla38.95,835
Gabon0.35,762
Namibia0.24,748
Saint Helena75.34,572
Falkland Islands126.54,407
Mauritania0.0632,930
Timor-Leste0.22,629
Syria0.0142,500
Brunei0.52,323
Cape Verde0.42,184
Kyrgyzstan0.0322,100
Solomon Islands0.32,000
Montserrat35.01,751
Niger0.0061,366
Papua New Guinea0.0121,081
South Sudan0.009947
Libya0.011750
Armenia0.019565
Tonga0.5500
Cameroon0.002400
Nauru1.6168
Benin00
British Indian Ocean Territory00
British Virgin Islands00
Burkina Faso00
Burundi00
Central African Republic00
Chad00
Comoros00
Cook Islands00
Cuba00
DR Congo00
Eritrea00
Guinea-Bissau00
Haiti00
Kiribati00
Liberia00
Madagascar00
Niue00
North Korea00
Pitcairn00
Samoa00
South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands00
Tajikistan00
Tanzania00
Tokelau00
Turkmenistan00
Tuvalu00
Vanuatu00
Vatican00
Yemen00

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This information is regularly updated but may not reflect the latest totals for each country. Total vaccinations refers to the number of doses given, not the number of people vaccinated. It is possible to have more than 100 doses per 100 population as some vaccines require two doses per person.

Source: Our World in Data, ONS, gov.uk dashboard

Last updated: 26 April 2021, 12:15 BST

In a statement responding to the announcement, AstraZeneca said it had “fully complied” with its agreement with the EU, and hoped to resolve the dispute as soon as possible.

“Following an unprecedented year of scientific discovery, very complex negotiations, and manufacturing challenges, our company is about to deliver almost 50m doses to European countries by the end of April, in line with our forecast,” the British-Swedish company said.

“We are making progress addressing the technical challenges and our output is improving, but the production cycle of a vaccine is very long which means these improvements take time to result in increased finished vaccine doses,” the statement read.

AstraZeneca had previously said that the contract obliged the company to make its “best effort” to meet EU demand, without compelling it to stick to a specific timetable.

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s spokesman told reporters he was unaware of the specifics around the legal action. He said AstraZeneca had been a “hugely strong partner for the UK and in fact, globally, for the work they’re doing”.

Under the contract, any legal action would need to be resolved by Belgian courts.

The EU originally planned to use AstraZeneca as the main vaccine in its rollout, but following the supply issues, the bloc now relies mostly on the Pfizer-BioNTech jab.

Despite vaccine delays, the EU is still aiming for “a minimum of 70% of the entire adult population” to have received at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine by this summer.

What is happening with Covid in Europe?

The announcement of legal action on Monday came as some countries began to ease restrictions.

Millions of French children returned to the classroom, as primary schools and nurseries reopened following a three-week shutdown. In Italy, restaurants and bars in much of the country were allowed to serve customers outside, while hairdressers in Belgium reopened their doors.

Meanwhile, the mayor of the Spanish city of Pamplona announced that the annual Sanfermín fiesta in July – with its famous running of the bulls – would be cancelled for a second year.

Outside of the EU, Turkey announced a coronavirus lockdown until 17 May in a bid to curb a surge in coronavirus cases and deaths.

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