The European Commission expects contractual obligations of vaccines incurred by drug-maker Astrazeneca to be met as laid out in the original purchase agreements.
On Friday (22 January), the Anglo-Swedish pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca announced they would delay the shipments of vaccine doses agreed with EU countries for up to a month.
The delay was caused by production problems at their facility in Belgium.
A senior EU official told Reuters that the cut would amount to 60% of the 31 million doses member states are expected to receive by the end of March.
In a telephone call with AstraZeneca CEO Pascal Soriot on Monday (25 January), European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen made clear that she expects the company to deliver on the contractual arrangements foreseen in the advanced purchased agreements (APA).
In August, the EU executive sealed a deal with AstraZeneca for at least 300 million doses at a cost of €336 million, with an option for a further 100 million doses.
A Commission spokesperson said that the EU has invested a significant amount of money in the company upfront to ensure production before the conditional market authorisation, which is expected to be granted by the European Medicines Agency (EMA) on 29 January.
“Of course, production issues can appear with a complex vaccine. But we expect the company to find solutions and to exploit all possible flexibilities to deliver swiftly,” the spokesperson said.
In a letter sent to the company on Sunday (24 January), Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides also stressed the importance of timely delivery of vaccines as set out in the APAs.
She reiterated that the scaling up of production capacity has to happen concurrently with the conduct of clinical trials to ensure the availability of vaccines as quickly as possible.
The matter was discussed by the Commission, national governments and the company at a steering board meeting on Monday (25 January).
After the meeting, Commissioner Kyriakides released a press statement saying that the answers from AstraZeneca have not been satisfactory yet and that a second meeting has been convened for the night.
“The EU wants to know exactly which doses have been produced by the company so far and where,” said the Cypriot Commissioner, adding that the EU will take any action required to protect its citizens’ rights.
She also anticipated that the Commission intends to activate an export transparency mechanism for more clarity on transactions and full transparency concerning the export of vaccines from the EU.
“In the future, all companies producing vaccines against COVID-19 in the EU will have to provide early notification whenever they want to export vaccines to third countries,” she concluded.
The shortage problem will only affect the EU as the deliveries to the United Kingdom, who also struck a deal with the pharmaceutical company, will be served as planned.
“The UK will get what was promised and the European Union will get much less and their explanation is: different supply chains,” commented German Christian Democrat MEP Peter Liese.
“This is great nonsense: when you have a contract, you have to deliver,” he added.
Meanwhile, Italy’s government is already mulling over legal action against AstraZeneca for breaching the purchase agreement.
“Slowing down vaccine deliveries is a serious breach of contract, causing enormous damage to Italy and other European countries,” Italy’s Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said.
Although the Commission has confirmed that the contract includes clauses that allow its termination in case of a breach, the spokesperson warned that it is too early to discuss this.
For the lawmaker Liese, legal options are among the tools which the EU can use to exercise pressure on companies to deliver.
[Edited by Benjamin Fox]