The European Union’s executive branch said Monday that it has launched legal action against coronavirus vaccine-maker AstraZeneca for failing to respect the terms of its contract with the 27-nation bloc.
The AstraZeneca vaccine has been central to Europe’s immunization campaign, and a linchpin in the global strategy to get vaccines to poorer countries. But the slow pace of deliveries has frustrated the Europeans and has been blamed in part for holding up the EU’s vaccine rollout.
European Commission spokesman Stefan De Keersmaecker said that Brussels launched the legal action against AstraZeneca last Friday “on the basis of breaches of the advance purchase agreement.”
He said the reason for the legal action was that “some terms of the contract have not been respected” and that “the company has not been in a position to come up with a reliable strategy to ensure a timely delivery of doses.”
AstraZeneca’s contract with the EU foresaw an initial 300 million doses for distribution among member countries, with an option for a further 100 million.
But only 30 million doses were delivered in the first quarter of 2021, and the company says it can provide 70 million in the second quarter, rather than the 180 million it had promised.
Frequently Asked Questions
A vaccine works by mimicking a natural infection. A vaccine not only induces immune response to protect people from any future COVID-19 infection, but also helps quickly build herd immunity to put an end to the pandemic. Herd immunity occurs when a sufficient percentage of a population becomes immune to a disease, making the spread of disease from person to person unlikely. The good news is that SARS-CoV-2 virus has been fairly stable, which increases the viability of a vaccine.
There are broadly four types of vaccine — one, a vaccine based on the whole virus (this could be either inactivated, or an attenuated [weakened] virus vaccine); two, a non-replicating viral vector vaccine that uses a benign virus as vector that carries the antigen of SARS-CoV; three, nucleic-acid vaccines that have genetic material like DNA and RNA of antigens like spike protein given to a person, helping human cells decode genetic material and produce the vaccine; and four, protein subunit vaccine wherein the recombinant proteins of SARS-COV-2 along with an adjuvant (booster) is given as a vaccine.
Vaccine development is a long, complex process. Unlike drugs that are given to people with a diseased, vaccines are given to healthy people and also vulnerable sections such as children, pregnant women and the elderly. So rigorous tests are compulsory. History says that the fastest time it took to develop a vaccine is five years, but it usually takes double or sometimes triple that time.
AstraZeneca has previously said that its contract with the EU contained vaccine delivery targets, not firm commitments, and that the company was unable to meet them because of early problems with rapidly expanding its production capacity.
Last month, the Commission launched a dispute resolution mechanism aimed at amicably addressing its differences with the company. Brussels said that its focus is to ensure timely deliveries of vaccines.
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It since said that its option for extra AstraZeneca doses will not be taken up.
Last week, Commission President Ursula von der Leyen announced that a new vaccine contract is set to be concluded with BioNTech-Pfizer for 1.8 billion doses for the 2021-23 period. She said the deal will ensure doses for booster shots, vaccines adapted to new variants, and, potentially, vaccines for children and teenagers.
Von der Leyen said that the EU, home to around 450 million people, has “already passed 123 million vaccinations” and is on track to have vaccinated 70 percent of all adults by July. Previously the target had been September.
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