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E.U. Threatens Drug Companies With legal Action If It Doesn’t Get Its Vaccines

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The European Union on Tuesday stepped up pressure on pharmaceutical companies it says have hobbled coronavirus vaccine rollouts, proposing tighter export controls and threatening potential legal action after two manufacturers announced sudden cuts to supply.

The bloc’s executive branch, the European Commission, said Tuesday it was planning measures to have companies register their vaccine exports from the European Union. The proposal is aimed at increasing transparency, the commission said, but would effectively slow the flow of vaccines out of the 27-nation group.

The moves follow a dispute between the European Union and British-Swedish pharmaceutical firm AstraZeneca, which said last week that it would supply “considerably fewer” doses of its coronavirus vaccine to E.U. member states than originally planned. The company blamed reduced capacity at one of its European production sites.

“This new schedule is not acceptable to the European Union,” Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides said Monday in a televised address. “The European Union wants to know exactly which doses have been produced by AstraZeneca and where exactly so far and if or to whom they have been delivered.”

Earlier this month, U.S.-based pharmaceutical giant Pfizer, which also developed a vaccine, said it would curb its own deliveries due to production delays at its Belgium plant. European leaders had hoped for a smooth vaccine rollout that would immunize the territory’s 448 million residents.

E.U. states are considering suing AstraZeneca for breach of contract “if things do not improve,” Latvian Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevics said. “We still hope that they will honor commitments, however all options are on the table.”

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He said that he was frustrated to watch vaccinations move more quickly in Britain and the United States, a situation E.U. policymakers have blamed on supply issues.

“That is why I get nasty on this,” Rinkevics said. “We will push the commission and others for coordinated and strong action. AstraZeneca got E.U. funding for vaccine development.”

On Monday, Germany’s health minister said he supported restricting vaccine exports to ensure doses reserved for E.U. member states remain in the bloc. Last year, Germany provided $455 million in federal funding to Pfizer and its German partner, BioNTech, for Stage 3 clinical trials and to boost production capacity.

For Europe, the lack of supply is particularly galling: doses for third countries are often produced in the E.U., which has spent $3.3 billion on funding the development and production of vaccines.

“Europe invested billions to help develop the world’s first covid-19 vaccines. To create a truly global common good,” the commission’s president, Ursula von der Leyen, said at a virtual meeting of the World Economic Forum on Tuesday. “And now, the companies must deliver. They must honor their obligations.”

Michael Birnbaum in Riga, Latvia, contributed to this report.

 

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