EU and AstraZeneca face off in court over COVID vaccine delays

A Belgian court on Wednesday is hearing legal complaints by the European Commission against the pharmaceutical group AstraZeneca.

The EU is suing the British-Swedish drugmaker over COVID jab delivery delays that hampered efforts to kickstart vaccination across the bloc.

The EU has accused AstraZeneca — which worked with Oxford University in developing its vaccine — of favoring the UK in its deliveries.

Lawyers for both sides appeared before a judge in a French-speaking court in Brussels.

Another hearing was scheduled for Friday, the court said.

AstraZeneca had initially committed to deliver 300 million doses from December to the end of June. But due to shipment delays, only 30 million doses arrived in the first quarter.

According to the Commission, the company is set to provide only 70 million doses in the second quarter of this year, as opposed to the 180 million it had promised.

With this lawsuit, the EU is hoping to pressure AstraZeneca to deliver 90 million more doses of its coronavirus vaccine before July.

AstraZeneca has denied having failed in its commitments and denounced the lawsuit as “unfounded.”

According to the company’s lawyer, AstraZeneca was not obliged to deliver the entire volume of doses, claiming it had only committed to doing its “best reasonable efforts.”

The EU said it invested €2.7 billion ($3.8 billion), including €336 million ($408 million), as part of an agreement with vaccine companies, to finance the production of AstraZeneca’s jab at four factories.

Last month, a lawyer for the Commision said during a procedural hearing that the company should use all four plants listed in their contract for deliveries to the EU.

“The contract listed a series of plants that had to be used by AstraZeneca and that still today, in breach of the contract, AstraZeneca is not using,” the EU’s lawyer, Rafael Jafferali, said.

EU diplomats and lawmakers have also pointed out that AstraZeneca has largely delivered promised doses to Britain, where it is headquartered.

AstraZeneca chief Pascal Soriot told the Financial Times, the UK government had been guaranteed priority for deliveries from the UK vaccine supply chain.

He said it was part of the deal it sealed with Oxford University in return for investment, before AstraZeneca joined as a development partner to produce and distribute the vaccine.

“Of course, when you do something like this as a government, you don’t do it for free,” Soriot said. “What you want in return, and it’s fair enough, is priority.”

While the EU insists the AstraZeneca jab remains part of its vaccine strategy, the Commission has not yet contracted the company for additional doses.

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