The vaccination campaign has been highly critical since the first months. The continued tensions led the European Commission, at the instigation of the 27 member states, to decide to take legal action against AstraZeneca. According to the official note, the pharmaceutical giant was guilty of "failing to present a reliable strategy" on vaccine deliveries.
Given the problems that have become evident in recent months, the news is not surprising. Delays and precautionary stops to vaccinations had repeatedly put the spotlight on a supply system that was very deficient in relation to the Old Continent.
The shortcomings that characterised the negotiation phase carried out by the Commission made the situation complex and did not exempt the European institutions from controversy at national level. This is particularly true of the decision to set delivery quotas on a quarterly rather than weekly basis. This decision, which was also taken with regard to the other pharmaceutical companies and the contracts concluded with them, did not allow supplies to be tracked on time. On the contrary, it allowed the company, within the three months available, to accelerate or slow down the pace of production of vaccines in a completely autonomous way, without repercussions or stringent controls and with the only constraint that at the end of each deadline deliveries were respected.
This delicate problem was made worse by the lack of strong rigidity in the contract, which on the contrary was extremely flexible and not very incisive with regard to penalties in the event of violations or non-compliance.
In this regard, it is important to remember that sanctions are not automatic. In case a violation is detected, it will be the Commission's intervention, through a new negotiation with the pharmaceutical company, to determine the "remedy", which may take different forms.
Four months into the vaccination campaign and faced with the same problems as presented above, the conflict has resulted in the European Commission's decision to take legal action against AstraZeneca. On the other hand, the pharmaceutical giant's response was not long in coming either, stating that it felt extremely 'regretful about the EU Commission's decision to take legal action on COVID-19 vaccine supplies'. It also announced in an official statement that it would "strongly defend itself in court".
This affair will have an extremely important impact, especially on the future. Given the need for supplies in order to achieve high levels of immunisation, this was followed by a further blowback. In fact, an official note from Downing Street was not long in coming, in which, without entering directly into the matter, the extraordinary results and the first-class role played by AstraZeneca in recent months were recalled. This was a positive and counter-trend assessment of the British company's performance.
All this has brought out the extent to which the vaccination issue goes beyond the health emergency, with implications for international relations. Symbols of these dynamics are precisely the connections, not always positive, with international partners, such as the United Kingdom and the United States: the decision to shelve thousands of AstraZeneca vaccines is proof of this.
Faced with this situation, it is necessary to take into account that Europe absolutely cannot do without AstraZeneca in order to ensure an increase in the vaccination campaign and to consolidate the waning confidence in the European institutions. At the same time, it must avoid the emergence of a 'race' to buy vaccines at national level, which could have negative implications for the already fragile balance.
Translated by: Elena Briasco