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Italy considers legal action over Pfizer vaccine delivery delays

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ROME, Jan 20 (Reuters) - Italy is considering legal action against Pfizer Inc after the U.S. drugmaker announced a further cut in coronavirus vaccine deliveries, the country's COVID-19 special commissioner Domenico Arcuri said.

Pfizer told Italy last week that it was cutting its deliveries by 29%. On Tuesday, Pfizer said it was not in the position to make up the 29% shortfall next week and that it was planning a further "slight reduction" in deliveries, Arcuri said.

"As a result, we discussed what action to take to protect Italian citizens and their health in all civil and criminal venues," Arcuri said in a statement late on Tuesday.

"It was unanimously decided that these actions will be taken starting in the next few days."

He did not elaborate.

A spokeswoman for Pfizer declined to comment on Wednesday about Italy's legal threat and criticism about delivery delays beyond its statement on Friday about supply cuts.

The drugmaker said last week it was temporarily slowing supplies of its coronavirus vaccine to Europe to make manufacturing changes that would boost output.

Pfizer, which is trying to deliver millions of doses at a breakneck pace to curb a pandemic that has already killed more than 2 million people worldwide, said the changes would "provide a significant increase in doses in late February and March".

According to an Italian source, Rome is now trying to assess whether Pfizer is acting under force majeure, or circumstances beyond its control.

If not, the drug group could be accused of breaching the contract it has signed with the European Union on state members' behalf, the source said.

One possibility could be for Rome to call on the European Union to present a lawsuit to a court in Belgium's capital, Brussels, the source said. (Reporting by Emilio Parodi in Milan and Domenico Lusi in Rome; additional reporting by Josephine Mason in London; Writing by Giselda Vagnoni; Editing by Nick Macfie)