The EU is leaving the door open for possible legal action against the pharmaceutical companies that have unexpectedly delayed the delivery of COVID-19 vaccines, European Council chief Charles Michel has said.
“We can use all the legal means at our disposal for this,” Michel told Europe 1. “The EU intends to enforce the contracts signed by the pharmaceutical industry,” he added.
Many leaders across the bloc have reacted strongly to the delays, while Paris is trying to come up with alternatives until vaccines’ production returns to normality.
Pfizer-BioNTech announced last week a month-delay for its deliveries to Europe saying its factory in Belgium’s Puurs needed to be upgraded in order to increase production capacity in the medium-term. Similarly, British pharmaceutical Astra Zeneca, whose vaccine is due to be approved in the EU on 29 January, has said it will send a reduced number of first doses to Europe compared to the initial plan.
EU member states’ vaccination programs have therefore been derailed and the pharmaceutical industry has caused anger in many EU capitals.
Belgium is now expected to receive less than half the expected AstraZeneca vaccines after the government postponed vaccinations of hospital staff due to a shortage in deliveries by vaccine manufacturer Pfizer last week.
Belgium will receive only 650,000 doses of the new AstraZeneca vaccine in the first quarter of the year, instead of the contracted 1.5 million doses, Belgian Health Minister Frank Vandenbroucke told RTBF, adding that this is “very bad news”.
“On the market, they have a monopoly and we are totally dependent […] The European Commission has an important role to play and must take strong positions vis-à-vis the industry to claim what has been promised. These uncertainties make the campaign’s organisation very difficult,” he added.
In Rome, Italian PM Giuseppe Conte said his country was ready to take “countermeasures” as these “unacceptable” delays cause enormous damage to Italy and other countries. Pfizer announced on Sunday, though, that as of this week vaccine deliveries to Italy will return to agreed levels.
Meanwhile in Paris, the Haute Autorite de Sante (HAS), France’s top health advisory body, has said a solution to the vaccine deliveries’ delay could be to double the time between the first and second doses.
Currently, the second dose is injected three weeks after the first and now Paris mulls extending it to six. In this way, an increased number of people will be able to be vaccinated with the first dose.