EU Commissioner Hopeful People Vaccinated With AstraZeneca Can Enter US

European commissioner for internal market Thierry Breton gives a press conference about the new European Health Emergency preparedness and response authority (Hera), in Brussels, on September 16, 2021. (Photo by François WALSCHAERTS / AFP)


While Washington has not authorised the AstraZeneca vaccine against Covid-19, a European commissioner on Monday expressed hope that travellers from the continent inoculated with the jab will soon be able to enter the United States.

The US government on Monday announced that starting November 1, it will lift the pandemic travel ban on all air passengers who are fully vaccinated and undergo testing and contact tracing.

The unprecedented travel restrictions had raised tensions between the United States and its European allies and had kept relatives, friends and business travelers around the world separated for many months as the pandemic grinds on.

In an interview in Washington with AFP, Thierry Breton, European commissioner for internal market, said the new order covers people vaccinated with jabs recognized by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

The agency has not approved the AstraZeneca shot used by many European nations, however, Breton said he spoke with White House pandemic response coordinator Jeff Zients who “sounded positive and optimistic.”

However, Zients told him that “for the other vaccines, for AstraZeneca in particular, their health agency would decide.”

Whether a decision would come by November 1 when travel resumes, Zients “seemed positive on the dates, too,” said Breton, who coordinates the EU’s supply of Covid-19 vaccines.

Breton said the restrictions “no longer made any sense.”

Despite Europe’s relatively high vaccination rates “we are on the same restrictions as China, Iran, and other countries. It makes no sense at all,” he said.

The United States first imposed the restrictions as the pandemic began in March 2020 on travelers from the European Union, United Kingdom, and China, later extending it to India and Brazil.

However, the availability of Covid-19 vaccines has made continuing the travel ban a point of transatlantic tension.

That worsened in recent days after Australia’s sudden announcement that it will acquire US-built nuclear submarines as part of a new defense alliance, ditching a contract with France for conventionally powered submarines.


NPHCDA Sets Wednesday To Begin Second Dose Of AstraZeneca Vaccine

A file photo of a syringe and a vial containing the COVID-19 vaccine by AstraZeneca. THOMAS KIENZLE / AFP


Those who have received their first dose of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine will begin to receive the second dose from Wednesday, the Federal Government has said.

Executive Director of the National Primary Health Care Development Agency (NPHCDA), Dr Faisal Shuaib, disclosed this on Tuesday at a briefing in Abuja.

He appealed to those who have taken the first dose of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine to proceed to their vaccination sites for the second dose for maximum protection against the disease.

Shuaib also asked persons aged 18 years and above who have yet to be vaccinated to visit any of the sites to receive their first dose of the Moderna vaccine.

READ ALSO: FG Has Made 15% Deposit For J&J Vaccines – NPHCDA

The NPHCDA boss explained why the Federal Government delayed the deployment of the Moderna vaccines to states after they were certified safe by the National Agency for Food and Drugs Administration and Control (NAFDAC).

He said the delay was due to the lack of proper coding for tracing and tracking, although 29 states have so far received their shipment of the vaccines.

According to Shuaib, the Johnson & Johnson will be available to persons in security-compromised, riverine, nomadic, and border settlements.

He urged Nigerians to continue to observe the existing protocols to curb the spread of the disease, even after vaccination until the country achieves herd immunity.

Read the text of the NPHCDA boss’ speech at the briefing below:

Distinguished members of the Press, it gives me great pleasure to once again welcome you to this weekly progress report on our efforts to protect Nigerians against the deadly COVID-19.

I have come to look forward to this regular interface with you as it aligns with our principle of transparency and accountability at NPHCDA and the partnership. I thank you for keeping faith with us as we strive to make Nigerians healthy.

In the last few days, our focus has been on distributing the range of COVID-19 vaccines – Moderna, Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca to the states, as well as concluding the training of state and LGA personnel to ensure optimum vaccine utilisation.

So far, we have deployed Moderna vaccines to 29 States. It is pertinent to state that we could not deploy the vaccines immediately after NAFDAC certification because, unlike the AstraZeneca, the Moderna vaccine did not come with complete barcoding. And this is absolutely needed for us to be able to track and trace the vaccines.

As I told you in previous meetings, Nigeria was the first country to use Track and Trace, to monitor the movement and utilisation of the vaccine. At every point in time, we know where each vaccine vial is in the country. This takes a lot of time as it entails careful packaging, serialisation and follow up to the end user.

Furthermore, we want to ensure that any state we are sending the vaccine to, is fully ready to receive them. Readiness here means that the state’s ultra-cold chain equipment is fully functional and able to store the vaccines at the required temperatures.

Also, the states must have back-up storage facilities such as walk-in cold room, walk-in freezer or chest freezers with reliable 24-hour power supply. Additionally, we require that the states have trained health care workers who will monitor the equipment and the vaccines.

Now that the vaccines are in the states, we are counting on our Governors to continue to provide the needed oversight and resources to ensure that these vaccines are secured and maintained in the required temperatures and that all eligible persons are mobilised to access the vaccines to protect themselves, their families and their communities against COVID-19.

For Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which is a single dose, using the Geographical Information System (GIS), we have mapped out the hard-to-reach areas across all states, such as security-compromised, riverine, nomadic and border settlements where these vaccines will be deployed for targeted vaccination.

Again, as I mentioned previously, the reason for targeting these areas with the Johnson & Johnson is because of geographical constraints that make it difficult to reach the dwellers with the second dose after the first contact.

Secondly, it removes the additional logistic cost for going to these communities twice. We have developed the necessary protocols to guide the states and ensure compliance with the distribution guideline for the vaccine.

The AstraZeneca vaccine will be used as the second dose for those who received their first dose during the first phase to ensure they are fully vaccinated. Consequently, the administration of AstraZeneca Vaccine will commence on the 25th of August and will close on the 5th of September.

I, therefore, urge all those who received their first dose prior to July 8th to visit a designated vaccination site from 25th August to 5th September to receive their second dose and become fully protected against COVID-19. As we receive more supplies, we will then open it up for those who may wish to take their first dose.

You may recall that one of the initiatives we have introduced in this second phase of the vaccination rollout and subsequent phases is the primary health care services integration (PSI), also known as the “whole of family” approach.

This means that when you visit a health facility for your COVID-19 vaccination, you will be given health talks to improve your knowledge of the vaccine and vaccination, and if you are 40 years and above, you will have the opportunity to check your blood pressure and be assessed for the risk of diabetes.

Similarly, children aged zero to 12 months will be screened for malnutrition and vaccinated against childhood diseases such as measles, yellow fever, hepatitis and polio. If you need further medical attention, you will be referred to the appropriate hospital for additional analysis and treatment.

Distinguished ladies and Gentlemen, I want to wrap up by urging every person aged 18 years and above who has not been vaccinated to visit any of our vaccination sites to receive their first dose of Moderna vaccine.

Those who have received their first dose of AstraZeneca should also proceed to their vaccination sites for their second dose for maximum protection. And as I mentioned earlier, Johnson & Johnson will be available to persons in security-compromised, riverine, nomadic and border settlements.

Please remember that even after vaccination, we need to continue to observe the non-pharmaceutical measures such as wearing of facemask, observing hand hygiene physical distancing, and avoiding crowds and unnecessary travels until the country achieves herd immunity.

I would also like to congratulate Nigerians as we reach one year of being certified wild polio virus free on August 25th.

I thank you and will continue to count on your support for dissemination of true and accurate information to keep Nigerians informed and educated about COVID-19 vaccines and vaccination.

God bless you!

God bless NPHCDA!!

God bless the Federal Republic of Nigeria!!!

Dr. Faisal Shuaib


Nigeria To Receive Over 176,000 J&J COVID-19 Vaccines On Wednesday

A health worker prepares a COVID-19 vaccine dose to inoculate a woman. Tauseef MUSTAFA / AFP (File Photo)


Nigeria is expected to receive 176,000 doses of the Johnson and Johnson COVID-19 vaccines on Wednesday.

Executive Director, National Primary Health Care Development Agency, Faisal Shuaib, confirmed this at a news conference in Abuja on Tuesday.

He said the J&J vaccine, like the AstraZeneca, is safe and efficient against the coronavirus disease, including the deadlier Delta variant.

The J&J vaccine is a single-shot vaccine.

It is expected to boost Nigeria’s COVID-19 fight with the Delta variant sparking fears of a third wave of the pandemic.

Dr. Shuaib had recently announced that the second phase of the COVID-19 vaccination programme would commence soon.

The exercise had earlier been scheduled to begin on Tuesday, but it was postponed due to “unforeseen circumstances,” according to a spokesperson in the Office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Willie Bassey.

The need for the rollout of the second batch of the vaccines has, however, become crucial as Nigeria gradually returns to seeing a spike in infections.

As of Monday, 422 new cases of COVID-19 were recorded in the country, with five more deaths.

According to the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), the infections were recorded in nine states. Lagos maintained the lead with 190 cases, followed by Rivers (86) and Ogun (85).

Others are Oyo (22), FCT (20), Kwara (7), Edo (5), Abia (4), and Bayelsa (3)

So far, a total of 178,508 cases have been confirmed, 165,983 patients have recovered and 2,192 deaths have been recorded in 36 states, including the Federal Capital Territory.

More than 200 million cases of the pandemic have been confirmed globally, with the death toll reaching four million.

Vaccine Used In Nigeria Can Protect Against Indian COVID-19 Variant – NPHCDA

In this file photo, a vial containing the COVID-19 vaccine by AstraZeneca and a syringe are seen on a table. AFP
In this file photo, a vial containing the COVID-19 vaccine by AstraZeneca and a syringe are seen on a table. AFP


The National Primary Health Care Development Agency has called on Nigerians to continue to take the Oxford/AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine.

Addressing reporters on Tuesday in Abuja, the Executive Director of the NPHCDA, Dr Faisal Shuaib, stated that the vaccine was not only effective but was capable of protecting people against the Indian variant of the virus.

“Recent research from Public Health England (PHE) shows that the Indian (Delta) variant B.1.617.2 is 92% susceptible to Oxford/AstraZeneca,” he said at the briefing to update Nigerians on the status of COVID-19 vaccination.

Shuaib added, “It is, therefore, comforting to know that the vaccine used in Nigeria can protect against this variant that caused high morbidity and mortality in India. However, it underscores the need for us to ramp up our vaccination to more Nigerians.”

He announced that the Nigerian government has reopened the administration of the first dose of the vaccine effective from Tuesday, in response to requests by Nigerians to be vaccinated.

The NPHCDA boss noted that the vaccination for the first dose was officially closed on May 24 and appealed to persons of 18 years and above that were yet to take the jab to visit the nearest vaccination site for the first dose of the vaccine.

He explained that such persons would be due to receive their second dose of the jab in 12 weeks, noting that Nigeria would have received the next consignment of vaccines.

The NPHCDA boss said dedicated teams have continued to make strides in the vaccine rollout, working hand-in-hand with the local communities all across the country.

As of June 15, he revealed that the agency has administered 1,978,808 and 680,345 first and second doses of the vaccine respectively.

Shuaib called on all Nigerians who have received their first dose to check their vaccination cards for the date of their first dose.

He asked them to ensure that they receive the second dose between six and 12 weeks from the date they took the first dose, to gain full protection against the COVID-19 virus.

COVID-19: El-Rufai Takes Second Jab Of AstraZeneca

El-Rufai receives the second jab of the COVID-19 vaccine


Kaduna State Governor, Nasir El-Rufai has taken the second jab of the COVID-19 vaccine.

Governor El-Rufai received the jab at his residence on Monday as he commenced the second phase of the vaccine in the state.

READ ALSO: Buhari Takes the Second Dose Of COVID-19 Vaccine

His vaccination comes after President Muhammadu Buhari received his second dose of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine last Saturday at the State House in Abuja.

The second dose is being administered exactly 12 weeks after the first shot was taken on March 6.

The President’s inoculation was done by the Chief Personal Physician to the President, Dr. Suhayb Rafindadi Sanusi after which he was presented with the e-vaccination card by the executive director of the National Primary Health Care Development Agency, Dr. Faisal Shuaib.

Canada Extends Shelf Life Of AstraZeneca Jab By One Month

Files: Miguel MEDINA / AFP


Canadian health authorities announced Saturday they were pushing back the expiration date on nearly 50,000 doses of AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine by one month.

Health Canada said in a statement its approval to extend the shelf life of two lots of vaccine from May 31 to July 1 was supported by “scientific evidence.”

“This change will ensure that provinces and territories are able to use up their existing inventory and provide Canadians access to much needed doses of the vaccine,” the agency said.

A spokesperson for Health Canada said that as of May 22, there were about 49,000 doses of AstraZeneca in the country with an expiration date of May 31. CBC reported that most were in Ontario province.

Canadian health authorities had previously approved a six-month shelf life for AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 vaccine.

READ ALSO: France Threatens To Pull Troops Out Of Mali

But they said they received information from the company on May 27 including “product stability and mathematical modelling data” that showed the two lots could be safely and effectively used for an extra month.

Several provinces announced this month their decision to suspend use of the AstraZeneca vaccine for people receiving their first shot, due to rare instances of blood clots.

But Canadians who had received a first AstraZeneca dose were able to get their scheduled second dose.

Just over 55 percent of Canada’s 38 million people have received one dose of Covid-19 vaccine, and 5 percent have received two doses.

In addition to AstraZeneca, vaccines from Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson are approved for use in Canada.


Africa Needs 20m Doses Of AstraZeneca Jabs In Six Weeks – WHO

In this file photo an illustration picture shows vials with Covid-19 Vaccine stickers attached and syringes with the logo of British pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca on November 17, 2020. AFP


Africa needs at least 20 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine within six weeks if those who have had their first shot are to get the second in time, the WHO said Thursday.

“Africa needs vaccines now,” said Dr Matshidiso Moeti, the World Health Organization’s Regional Director for Africa.

“Any pause in our vaccination campaigns will lead to lost lives and lost hope.”

The WHO statement underlined the importance of respecting the recommended interval of eight to 12 weeks between doses to ensure a recipient’s prolonged 81-percent protection rate.

READ ALSO: Moderna Says COVID-19 Vaccine ‘Highly Effective’ In Adolescents

“In addition to this urgent need, another 200 million doses of any WHO Emergency Use Listed COVID-19 vaccine are needed so that the continent can vaccinate 10% of its population by September 2021,” the statement added.


A picture of the billboard of the World Health Organization (WHO)


As of May 26, Africa had registered more than 4.7 million cases of coronavirus with nearly 130,000 deaths attributed to the virus.


EU, AstraZeneca Battle In Court Over Vaccine Delays


The European Union accused AstraZeneca of a “flagrant violation” of its contract to rapidly build-up coronavirus production capacity in the bloc, as it began legal action against the drugs giant Wednesday.

The EU member states and their executive, the European Commission, brought the case before a court in Brussels, the union having signed its supply agreement with the British and Swedish firm under Belgian law.

The EU is suing the group in a bid to force it to deliver 90 million more doses of its Covid-19 vaccine before July — arguing that it failed in its contractual duty by handing over only a quarter of the doses it promised for the first quarter of 2021.

The deadline for the contract was set for mid-June, according to the Commission, and the EU says the company will face financial penalties if it does not meet this deadline.

AstraZeneca delivered only 30 million doses in the first quarter out of the 120 million it was contracted to supply. For the current quarter which runs until June 30, it plans to deliver only 70 million of the 180 million initially promised.

A Commission official close to the case told AFP this month that AstraZeneca was currently delivering doses at a rate of only 10 million per month, well below the planned pace.

The company’s defence — articulated ahead of the case in a series of media interviews by AstraZeneca’s French-Australian boss Pascal Soriot — has been that the contract only stipulates that it make “best reasonable efforts” and that production was hit by unavoidable delays.

But, opening the attack for the EU, lawyer Rafael Jeffareli argued that the firm had privileged supplies to Britain and beyond, while failing to make the best effort to step up production at its EU site in the Netherlands, operated by its sub-contractor Halix.

In court, Jeffareli alleged that for several weeks after the EU signed its contract with the firm in September last year, the Dutch plant had continued to supply markets other than the EU.

“Best effort means flexibility! Why did the switchover of the Halix site (to EU supply) only start on October 13?” he demanded.

“AstraZeneca did not even use all the tools at its disposal,” he said, claiming that the group could at the time mobilise “six production sites to meet the set schedule.”

The Halix plant in Leiden, the Netherlands, had sent supplies to Japan at the end of last year, he said. In total, “50 million doses were diverted to third countries in flagrant violation of the contract”.

The group denies having failed in its obligations and at the end of April denounced the lawsuit as “unfounded”.

One lawyer for AstraZeneca — which worked with Oxford University in the development of its vaccine — has claimed that the EU had been warned “as early as February” of the delays and expressed surprise that the bloc had waited at least two months to take the matter to court.

But the European Commission says the contract proves AstraZeneca is legally responsible, and EU diplomats and lawmakers have pointed out that the company has largely delivered promised doses to Britain, where it is headquartered.

– ‘Not in the contract’ –

The commission, which has been responsible for procuring vaccines for all of the bloc, initially intended to use the AstraZeneca jab as the main workhorse to power the EU’s inoculation drive.

It has now switched to the more expensive Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine as its mainstay.

Ahead of the hearing Hakim Boularbah, AstraZeneca’s lawyer, said the contracts contained “no obligation to use (production) sites”.

“This may be what the commission wants, but it is not provided for in the contract,” he said.

The row has eroded public confidence in the AstraZeneca jab, which also took a blow over worries of links to very rare blood clots in people who had received it.

In the European Union, Denmark, as early as April, and later Norway and Austria, stopped using AstraZeneca in their vaccination campaigns.

Most other countries have restricted its administration to older adults. This is the case in France, where it is reserved for those aged 55 and over.


Malawi Destroys 17,000 Expired AstraZeneca Vaccines

Malawi’s Health Minister Khumbize Kandodo Chiponda (C) lifts out a pack of expired Covid-19 Astra Zeneca from a transit box at an official ceremony at a pharmaceutical incinerator where the vaccines are to be destroyed at Kamuzu Central Hospital in Lilongwe on May 19, 2021. PHOTO: AMOS GUMULIRA / AFP


Malawi on Wednesday destroyed nearly 17,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine that had expired in mid-April, with the health minister blaming “propaganda” for many Malawians’ reluctance to receive the jab.

“The batch which had expired (has) been withdrawn from our system and has been destroyed,” Health Minister Kumbize Kandodo said at the Kamuzu Central Hospital in the capital Lilongwe.

The southern African country has so far received three batches of the AstraZeneca vaccine — 300,000 doses under the Covax vaccine sharing facility, 50,000 from India, and 102,000 from the African Union.

Kandodo said the African Union batch had “two weeks of shelf life, and unfortunately, in those two weeks, we were not able to absorb everything, mostly due to the propaganda against the AstraZeneca vaccine.”

A pharmaceutical expert (L) opens a pack of expired Covid-19 Astra Zeneca vaccines to show to Malawi’s Health Minister Khumbize Kandodo Chiponda (R) before they are destroyed in a furnace at a pharmaceutical incinerator at Kamuzu Central Hospital in Lilongwe on May 19, 2021. PHOTO: AMOS GUMULIRA / AFP


Austria this week became the third European country to drop AstraZeneca, after Norway and Denmark ditched the vaccine over rare cases of severe blood clots in people receiving the jab.

Kandodo said Wednesday: “We tried to assure Malawians and give them the faith” but wound up with 16,910 unusable doses of AstraZeneca, incinerated in a brief ceremony at the hospital.

Since Malawi launched its vaccination drive in March, it has inoculated 300,000 people of its target to reach 11 million, or 60 percent of the population, by the end of the year.

“We don’t want to lose any vaccine because we have a lot of people to vaccinate but… we have to remove all expired drugs from the system,” Kandodo said.


Austria To Phase Out AstraZeneca COVID-19 Vaccine

File Photo: Ina FASSBENDER / AFP


Austria will phase out AstraZeneca from its Covid-19 immunisation programme because of delivery problems and wariness among the population following reports of the vaccine’s rare side effects, the health minister said.

Austria becomes the third European country to drop AstraZeneca, after Norway and Denmark ditched the vaccine over rare cases of severe blood clots in people receiving the jab.

“We will probably continue to do first shots with AstraZeneca until early June, and then that’s it… AstraZeneca will be discontinued,” Health Minister Wolfgang Mueckstein told private TV channel Puls 24 late Monday.

Mueckstein said those who received a first shot of AstraZeneca would still get a second shot of the vaccine, but officials would determine which other vaccine to use for any refresher jabs later.

Mueckstein, a doctor himself, insisted AstraZeneca was “safe” but said Austria had taken the decision to discontinue it because of “bad compliance among the population”, “bad press” and “delivery problems”.

The European Commission is suing the British-Swedish pharmaceutical group over its failure to deliver millions of doses of its vaccine.

A third of Austria’s nine million people has received at least one Covid-19 shot.

The European Medicines Agency and the World Health Organization both recommend continued use of the vaccine, arguing that the benefits far outweigh the associated risks.


EU Sues AstraZeneca Over Vaccine Delivery Shortfall



The European Union said Monday it has launched legal action against pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca over coronavirus vaccine delivery shortfalls that hampered efforts to kickstart inoculations across the bloc. 

“The Commission has started last Friday a legal action against the company AstraZeneca on the basis of breaches of the advanced purchase agreement,” EU spokesman Stefan De Keersmaecker said.

“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.”

De Keersmaecker said the action was launched by the EU executive “on behalf of the 27 member states that are fully aligned in their support of this procedure”.

“What matters to us, in this case, is that we want to make sure that there’s a speedy delivery of a sufficient number of doses that European citizens are entitled to, and which have been promised on the basis of the contract,” he said.

British-Swedish firm AstraZeneca dismissed the legal action as “without merit” and insisted “we welcome this opportunity to resolve this dispute as soon as possible”.

“AstraZeneca has fully complied with the Advance Purchase Agreement with the European Commission and will strongly defend itself in court,” it said in a statement.

The commission and company have been locked in a feud over a major shortfall in deliveries that hobbled early efforts in the bloc to roll out jabs.

– ‘Best reasonable efforts’ –

AstraZeneca said it is due to have delivered about 50 million doses to Europe by the end of April, but that is far lower than the amount Brussels insists should have come.

The commission said the firm only provided 31 million of 120 million expected doses in the first three months of this year.

The company has warned it will send just 70 million from another 180 million doses initially promised by June.

AstraZeneca’s French-Australian boss Pascal Soriot has argued that his company’s contract with the EU binds it only to a “best reasonable efforts” clause.

But the commission says the rest of the contract shows greater legal responsibility than that, and EU diplomats and lawmakers have pointed out that the company has largely delivered promised doses to Britain, where it is headquartered.

The commission — which has been responsible for procuring vaccines for all of the bloc — informed member states last week of its plans to take the company to court and pressed for support from national governments.

Diplomats said any lawsuit against AstraZeneca would begin in a Belgian court — the jurisdiction agreed under the commission’s contract with the firm.

The EU initially intended to use the AstraZeneca jab as the main workhouse to power the bloc’s inoculation drive — but has now switched to the more expensive BioNTech/Pfizer vaccine as its mainstay.

Pfizer is expected to deliver 250 million doses across the EU during the second quarter of this year as the 27 nations look to meet a target of vaccinating 70 percent of adults by July.

The bloc is hoping an uptick in deliveries — which also includes the Moderna and the single-shot Johnson & Johnson jabs — can help it gain ground on inoculation pacesetters like the United States and Britain.

Public confidence in the AstraZeneca jab has also taken a blow over worries of links to very rare blood clots in the brain.

Some member states have restricted use to older people despite the bloc’s medicines agency insisting the jab’s benefits outweigh the risks.

EU Looks To Sue Astrazeneca Over Delivery Shortfall

An empty bottle of AstraZeneca vaccine against the coronavirus (Covid-19) is seen at a drive-in for vaccinations in Schwelm, western Germany, on April 7, 2021, amid the ongoing pandemic. Because the appointments at the vaccination centre in the Ennepe-Ruhr district are booked up for weeks, the administration reacted and set up the temporary vaccination drive-in (approx. 500 metres long, two vaccination tents, 40 employees) on the car park of a sports hall on the Easter weekend.


The European Commission is looking to launch legal action against AstraZeneca for underdelivering Covid-19 vaccine doses to the EU, hobbling the bloc’s early rollout of jabs, EU diplomats said Thursday.

The EU executive informed member state envoys of its plans on Wednesday, the diplomats told AFP, confirming information first published by the Politico website.

They said any lawsuit against AstraZeneca would begin in a Belgian court — the jurisdiction agreed under the commission’s contract with the British-Swedish pharmaceutical company.

One EU diplomat said the commission wanted EU member states — which also had a role in negotiating the vaccine contracts for the bloc — to back the lawsuit and to say so by the end of this week.

“The problem is that the member states do not know the complaint” being formulated, the diplomat said. “It is a sensitive procedure and you do not want to further damage trust in the vaccine.”

Another diplomat said that “not all member states are in agreement” on taking the company to court, stressing that their aim was simply to have AstraZeneca deliver the doses it had promised in its contract.

So far, AstraZeneca has delivered just 30 million of the 120 million doses it had promised, and it has warned it will likewise provide just 70 million of the 180 million more meant to be delivered over the rest of this year.

Public confidence in the AstraZeneca jab has taken a blow after the European Medicines Regulator said it was likely linked to a very rare, but often fatal, form of blood clots affecting the brain.

The EMA and the commission have not changed their stance on the general use of AstraZeneca, saying its benefits outweighed the risks, but several EU countries have restricted it to older citizens, aged over 50, 55, or 60.

– ‘Best efforts’ –
AstraZeneca’s French-Australian boss, Pascal Soriot, has argued that his company’s contract with the EU binds it only to a “best reasonable efforts” clause.

But the commission says the rest of the contract shows greater legal responsibility than that, and EU diplomats and lawmakers have pointed out that the company has largely delivered promised doses to Britain, where it is headquartered.

The European Commission did not confirm the reports of planned legal action.

“What matters is that we ensure the delivery of a sufficient number of doses in line with the company’s earlier commitments,” a spokesman said.

“Together with the member states, we are looking at all options to make this happen,” he said