By Matina Stevis-Gridneff and Monika Pronczuk
BRUSSELS — The European Union has filed a lawsuit in Belgium against the pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca over what it says is a breach of contract in the company’s delivery of Covid-19 vaccine, the European Commission announced on Monday.
The bloc’s relationship with the company has soured rapidly since AstraZeneca said in January that it would not be able to deliver on its scheduled vaccine doses for the first quarter of the year, setting the region’s vaccination campaign back by weeks.
“The commission has started last Friday a legal action against the company AstraZeneca on the basis of breaches of the advanced purchase agreement,” said Stefan de Keersmaecker, a spokesman on health issues for the commission, the E.U.’s executive branch. “The reason indeed being that the terms of the contract, or some terms of the contract, have not been respected and the company has not been in a position to come up with a reliable strategy to ensure the timely delivery of doses.”
Mr. de Keersmaecker said that all 27 E.U. member countries supported the move.
The company, while acknowledging that production problems have caused delays, has said its failure to deliver is not a breach of contract, because the European Union had placed its order after other clients, most notably Britain. A spokesman for the company did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Monday.
The two parties had been engaged in a dispute arbitration effort, but the European Union decided to move ahead with a legal case. The contract is under Belgian law, and legal proceedings would happen in Belgium.
The European Union’s vaccine contract with AstraZeneca, a British-Swedish company, was the first it signed, in August last year, and covers 400 million doses. So far, the company has delivered just over 30 million.
In an interview with The Times on Sunday, the European Commission president, Ursula von der Leyen, said the company had only supplied a quarter of what it had promised to the bloc, and had to deliver 200 million doses of vaccines by the end of this quarter.
She indicated that the European Union would not open talks over future supply. “At the moment, the company has a delay in delivering 200 million doses of vaccine by the end of the second quarter,” she said. “The number speaks for itself.”
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