The EU Commission said legal action has not been commenced against the AstraZeneca company, even though Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly told the Dáil this afternoon that a "legal case has been initiated".

In a statement, the Commission spokesperson for health, Stefan de Keersmaecker, told RTÉ News: "A decision to launch legal actions against the company has not been taken at this point in time."

Earlier, Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly told the Dáil that a legal case "has been initiated" by the EU Commission against AstraZeneca regarding the company's failure to meet its contractual agreements on Covid-19 vaccines.

Minister Donnelly said Ireland had joined the case due to AstraZeneca's "complete failure" to meet its delivery and contractual agreements over April, May and June.

Up to this point, Brussels only said a case was being prepared.

But the European Commission is looking to launch legal action against the company for underdelivering Covid-19 vaccine doses, hobbling the EU's early rollout of jabs, diplomats said today.

The EU executive informed member state envoys of its plans yesterday, the diplomats told AFP, confirming information first published by the Politico website.

They said any lawsuit against AstraZeneca would begin in a Belgian court - the jurisdiction agreed under the commission's contract with the British-Swedish pharmaceutical company.

A Commission spokesman, Eric Mamer, told journalists that "no decision has yet been taken".

Stefan De Keersmaecker added: "As you know, AstraZeneca is not delivering the number of doses which have been agreed upon in the contract... This is one of the reasons why we keep our options open together with member states to take any further steps."

One EU diplomat said the commission wants EU member states - which also had a role in negotiating the vaccine contracts for the bloc - to back the lawsuit and to say so by the end of this week.

"The problem is that the member states do not know the complaint" being formulated, the diplomat said. "It is a sensitive procedure and you do not want to further damage trust in the vaccine."

Another diplomat said that "not all member states are in agreement" on taking the company to court, stressing that their aim was simply to have AstraZeneca deliver the doses it had promised in its contract.

Mr Donnelly told the Dáil that it is likely that further rounds of vaccinations will be needed next year.

The minister said that it was evident that the disease is evolving, and work is underway within the European Commission for future procurement of vaccines.

He said that the effects of the vaccine programme are "nothing short of astonishing".

There was a 98% reduction in Covid cases for healthcare workers, he said, a 99% reduction for those aged over 85 and a 100% reduction for nursing homes.

95% of over-70s will have received at least one vaccine dose by the end of the week.

Mr Donnelly said that great progress has been made in reducing the incidence of the disease, however he warned that social interactions are rising with GP referrals for testing increasing this week as well.

Next week will also see 28 out of a total of 38 mass vaccination centres opened.

Recruitment of vaccinators continues, Minister Donnelly told the Dáil. There are enough vaccinators for April and May, so new recruits will start from June onwards.

Sinn Féin Health Spokesperson David Cullinane asked if the vaccine delivery target for April was still 800,000 doses.

Additional reporting Tommy Meskill