The EU is preparing legal action against AstraZeneca over the issue of vaccine delivery

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen

Thierry Monasse Getty Images news Getty Images

LONDON – The European Union is preparing legal action against AstraZeneca due to shortcomings in the delivery of its coronavirus vaccine, according to four people who are familiar with the issue.

This year, the EU and the pharmaceutical giant clashed on several different occasions. The Anglo-Swedish firm AstraZeneca said it could not deliver as many vaccines as the block had counted on, both during the first and second quarters. This delayed the introduction of Covid-19 in the 27 EU countries.

The European Commission, the EU’s executive, told 27 European ambassadors at a meeting Wednesday to consider legal action against AstraZeneca over these delivery issues, four EU officials, who declined to be named due to the sensitivity issue, CNBC was told on Thursday. Politico first reported on the commission’s plan late Wednesday.

“The commission wants to move fast. It’s a matter of days,” one of the officials told CNBC by phone, adding that the ambassador for legal action received “great support”.

The same official explained that only “a few legal issues” were examined before the process moved on.

Another official said the commission is taking the step because it wants to ensure that upcoming deliveries meet expectations.

When CNBC contacted us on Thursday, a European Commission spokesman said: “It is important to ensure the delivery of a sufficient number of doses in line with the company’s previous commitments.”

“Together with the member states, we are looking at all possibilities for that to happen,” the same spokesman said, not confirming or denying that legal action was being considered.

In March, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen expressed disappointment with AstraZeneca during a news conference, saying “AstraZeneca is unfortunately underproduced and underdelivered. And that has painfully, of course, reduced the speed of the vaccination campaign.”

At the time, von der Leyen said the block expected 70 million doses from the firm in the second quarter, up from 180 million originally projected.

AstraZeneca CEO Pascal Soriot told EU lawmakers in February that the delays were caused by low yields in EU production facilities.

A healthcare worker holds a bottle of AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination center, amid an outbreak of coronavirus disease, in Ronquieres, Belgium on April 6, 2021.

Yves Herman Reuters