The European Commission has denied a claim by the Minister for Health that it has started a legal case against AstraZeneca.
Stephen Donnelly told the Dáil on Thursday that the case was being launched over the company’s “complete failure” to meet its contractual agreements.
Mr Donnelly said: “With regards to AstraZeneca, a legal case has been initiated by the Commission.
“Earlier this week, I have joined Ireland as one of the parties to that case, specifically around AstraZeneca’s complete failure to meet its delivery contractual agreements for April, May and June.”
Mr Donnelly made the comments while giving an update on the country’s vaccine programme.
However, when contacted about the comments, a Commission spokesman said: “A decision to launch legal actions against the company has not been taken at this point in time.”
The Commission’s health spokesman Stefan De Keersmaecker told a briefing on Thursday: “The first thing I would like to stress is that no decision has yet been taken with regard to the legal actions.
“You know that we have, a few weeks ago, started the dispute resolution process, which is a process allowed by the contract, allowing the parties to sit together and try to reach an agreement.
“What matters for us and what matters for all the member states is that we can ensure a timely delivery of a sufficient number of doses by the company.
“For the time being, as you know we are not there yet. And so, together with the member states, we are looking at all options that are available to make sure that such deliveries can take place.”
He said any decision would be taken jointly by all the member states.
Sources familiar with the situation told Reuters the Commission was working on legal proceedings after the drugmaker cut deliveries to the European Union.
The sources said the matter was discussed at a meeting on Wednesday, but some EU member states wanted more time to consider the move.
The AstraZeneca vaccine is not being used on anyone under the age of 60 following advice from public health doctors.
However, Mr Donnelly, who is aged 45, said he would take the vaccine if he was offered it.
“As for AstraZeneca, based on everything I have seen, I would take it. I would take it today.
“Niac [National Immunisation Advisory Committee] are operating under an abundance of caution, and in the context of multiple options being available in Ireland.”
Niac is also due to give the Government its recommendations on the use of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine early next week, following advice from the European Medicines Agency (EMA).
Meanwhile, it was also confirmed that the majority of people over 70 have had their first vaccine dose, with some 95 per cent of this group receiving their second dose by the end of this week.
“More and more vaccination centres are opening. Next week, 28 of a total 38 centres will be open,” Mr Donnelly added.
“For April and May we have a lot more vaccinators ready to go in when needed with recruitment continuing from June onwards.
“Some 83 per cent of those aged 65 to 69 have registered for a Covid-19 vaccine. Vaccinations for this group started earlier this week.
“From January to last week, there has been a 98 per cent reduction in cases for healthcare workers and 99 per cent reduction for those aged over 85 and 100 per cent reduction for nursing homes.
“We have delivery changes to every vaccine for nearly every week.”
He added: “The degree of protection provided by the vaccines is being monitored closely. However, it is likely that further rounds of vaccinations will be needed next year.
“It is evident that the disease is evolving such that a range of variants of different severity and infectiousness have already been detected.”
Sinn Féin’s David Cullinane said that “life is starting to open up” and the country can now see “the finishing horizon”.
“The quicker we see the easing of restrictions the better, so it can’t come soon enough for all of us.
“I fully appreciate it has to be based on pubic health advice. I appeal to people to stick with the advice.”
Mr Donnelly also said that Ireland is projected to receive just under 940,000 vaccines in the month of April, which includes Janssen vaccines expected next week.
Mr Donnelly said he also met with the chief medical officer on Wednesday about including India in the country’s “red list”.
He said he is expecting a recommendation on the matter this week.
Fianna Fáil’s John McGuinness said he believes there is an issue around vaccine messaging.
“The message at the best of times has been confusing,” he added.
“We have to be clear and inform people on what we expect to come and then we have to inform them as to what is here and who is going to be vaccinated next.”