EU demands immediate access to UK-made vaccines

European Union lawyers have demanded that AstraZeneca immediately deliver COVID-19 vaccines from its factories in Britain, in a move that risks reigniting a spat with London over scarce vaccine supplies.

The call came in the opening hearing of the European Commission's legal case in Brussels against the drugmaker over supply delays.

AstraZeneca has missed delivery targets to both Britain and the EU, delaying the bloc's immunization campaign, and further stoking tensions between London and Brussels.

The bloc accuses the company of failing to meet its contractual obligations, but AstraZeneca says it is complying with the agreement, which it considers not fully binding.

The contract lists four vaccine-making plants, two of which are in Britain.

AstraZeneca has delivered doses to the EU from sites in Belgium and the Netherlands, but it has not shipped any dose produced in UK plants to the EU.

The UK government has denied imposing export curbs, and is seeking extra doses from a factory in the Netherlands run by an AstraZeneca sub-contractor. The EU is now blocking exports from that plant.

With the pandemic still raging across the continent, the AstraZeneca vaccine was seen as a central part of Europe's inoculation effort.

But cuts and delays in deliveries have disrupted the campaign in the EU, which trails behind Britain on vaccinations.

By the end of March, AstraZeneca had delivered only a quarter of what it had committed to the EU.

It blamed production problems for the delays.

The EU lawyers asked for a decision before the end of June to make sure missing doses could be delivered in a timely fashion.