EU, AstraZeneca battle in court over vaccine delays

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The European Union accused AstraZeneca of a violation of its contract to rapidly build-up coronavirus production capacity in the bloc, as it began legal action against the drugs giant Wednesday.

The EU member states and their executive, the European Commission, brought the case before a court in Brussels, the union having signed its supply agreement with the British and Swedish firm under Belgian law.

The EU is suing the group in a bid to force it to deliver 90 million more doses of its Covid-19 vaccine before July, arguing that it failed in its contractual duty by handing over only a quarter of the doses it promised for the first quarter of 2021.

The deadline for the contract was set for mid-June, according to the Commission, and the EU says the company will face financial penalties if it does not meet this deadline.

AstraZeneca delivered only 30 million doses in the first quarter out of the 120 million it was contracted to supply.

For the current quarter which runs until June 30, it plans to deliver only 70 million of the 180 million initially promised.

A Commission official close to the case told newsmen this month that AstraZeneca was currently delivering doses at a rate of only 10 million per month, well below the planned pace.

The company’s defence — articulated ahead of the case in a series of media interviews by AstraZeneca’s French-Australian boss Pascal Soriot — has been that the contract only stipulates that it make best reasonable efforts and that production was hit by unavoidable delays.

But, opening the attack for the EU, lawyer Rafael Jeffareli argued that the firm had privileged supplies to Britain and beyond, while failing to make the best effort to step up production at its EU site in the Netherlands, operated by its sub-contractor Halix.

In court, Jeffareli alleged that for several weeks after the EU signed its contract with the firm in September last year, the Dutch plant had continued to supply markets other than the EU.

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