The European Union has launched legal action against the coronavirus vaccine manufacturer AstraZeneca.
The European Commission – the EU’s executive branch – said it was suing the company for not respecting its vaccine supply contract, and for not having a “reliable” plan to ensure timely deliveries.
AstraZeneca said the move was “without merit”.
It said it would “strongly defend itself in court”.
The legal action marks an escalation in a long-running dispute between the two sides over the supply of coronavirus vaccines.
The EU is struggling with the slow pace of its vaccine rollout. Some in the bloc have claimed that AstraZeneca has shown preferential treatment to the UK – but the company has denied this.
Meanwhile, the US has announced that it will share up to 60 million doses of its AstraZeneca vaccine with other countries as they become available. The doses will be able to be exported in the coming months after a federal safety review, AP news agency reports.
A European Commission spokesman said the action was launched on Friday, with the backing of all 27 member states.
It stems from a deal the commission signed last August for 300 million doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, with an option for 100 million more.
Earlier this year, AstraZeneca said its supplies would be reduced because of production problems. Of 80 million doses planned for delivery in the first quarter of 2021, only about 30 million were sent.
According to the European Commission, the company is set to provide 70 million doses in the second quarter of 2021 instead of the 180 million that were initially arranged.
“The terms of the contract, or some terms of the contract, have not been respected,” the spokesman said. “We want to make sure that there’s a speedy delivery of a sufficient number of doses… which have been promised on the basis of the contract.”
“Every vaccine dose counts. Every vaccine dose saves lives,” she wrote.
One EU official told Reuters news agency that the move was taken to “send a message” to AstraZeneca’s chief executive Pascal Soriot.