Health minister says Ireland will join EU in taking legal action against AstraZeneca

The vaccine rollout across Europe has been hit with supply issues in recent months
Health minister says Ireland will join EU in taking legal action against AstraZeneca

Vials of the AstraZeneca vaccine being stored in a temperature-controlled fridge. File picture

Health minister Stephen Donnelly has said that a legal case has been started by the European Commission against AstraZeneca over its "complete failure" to meet delivery and contractual agreements.

Mr Donnelly told the Dáil on Wednesday that he has joined Ireland as one of the parties to the case, specifically around AstraZeneca's "complete failure to meet its delivery and contractual agreements for April, May and June."

Ddelivery interruptions had led to a need to alter the vaccine programme for "every single week" in the next number of months, he said.

He said that the action, which needs to be agreed by all member states, had been under discussions for weeks by the bloc’s ambassadors, according to sources, with the procedure expected to take between five and seven weeks.

However, a European Commission spokesman has since said that legal actions "had not been taken at this point in time.” 

Commission health spokesman Stefan De Keersmaecker told a briefing on Thursday: “The first thing I would like to stress is that no decision has yet been taken with regard to the legal actions.

“You know that we have, a few weeks ago, started the dispute resolution process, which is a process allowed by the contract, allowing the parties to sit together and try to reach an agreement.

“What matters for us and what matters for all the member states is that we can ensure a timely delivery of a sufficient number of doses by the company.

“For the time being, as you know we are not there yet. 

Mr De Keersmaecker said any decision would be taken jointly by all the member states.

AstraZeneca delivered just 30 million of its originally committed 120 million doses to the European Union in the first quarter.

Despite AstraZeneca’s shortfall, the EU has started to turn the corner in its vaccination campaign, which is still lagging behind the UK and the US. 

The bloc is aiming to inoculate 70% of its population by the end of the summer.

The Pfizer-BioNTech alliance now plans to deliver 600 million doses to the bloc this year. Pfizer is also bringing forward the timing of some deliveries to this quarter.

Ireland is set to receive 545,000 extra doses of the Pfizer vaccine over the next three months

The EU rollout could get another jolt if the CureVac Novartis vaccine candidate gets approved soon, since many of the German biotech company’s 300 million planned doses for this year would stay on the continent.

The vaccine rollout across Europe has been hit with supply issues in recent months.

In Ireland, it was revealed on Tuesday that a delivery of AstraZeneca jabs this week had fallen from an expected 45,000 to just 9,000.

The latest figures from the Department of Health show that more than 1.2m doses of Covid-19 vaccine have been administered here as of April 19.

Some 863,958 people have received their first dose while 355,529 people have received their second jab.

- Bloomberg

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