EU, AstraZeneca both claim win in court row over vaccine deliveries

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Brussels, June 18 (BNA): A Belgian court has instructed AstraZeneca to deliver 50 million Covid-19 shots to the European Union by late September, in a ruling claimed as a victory by both sides that will have little immediate impact on the bloc's vaccine supply, dpa reported.

Under the judgement handed down Friday, the British-Swedish pharmaceutical firm must deliver a total 80.2 million doses by September 27 - a target the company said it expects to "substantially exceed" already by the end of this month.

In a press release welcoming the decision, AstraZeneca said it had handed over 70 million shots to the EU already.

The court ruling provided for fines worth 10 euros (11.80 dollars) per missing dose should the company fall short of a legally mandated delivery calendar. But given current shipment projections, it is very unlikely the firm will have to pay these penalties.

The European Commission, representing the 27 member states, had originally sought the delivery of 90 million doses left undelivered from the first quarter of the year.

While this request was not granted in full, the EU executive branch nonetheless claimed victory on the principles of the case.
"AstraZeneca did not live up to the commitments it made in the contract," President Ursula von der Leyen said in a written statement. "It is good to see that an independent judge confirms this."

After months of bad blood, the EU executive branch took out an emergency injunction in May against the firm over production difficulties that wiped out a huge part its order for early 2021.

Brussels was particularly irked that neighbouring Britain's supply chain remained relatively untouched.

The bloc even halted the export of 250,000 of the company's vaccine doses from Italy to Australia, arguing it must first honour its contractual obligations to the EU.

AstraZeneca has consistently argued that there is no legal obligation to meet the arranged timeline, because the contract only compels the company to make its "best reasonable efforts" to meet these goals.

The entire purchase agreement, negotiated by the commission on behalf of the EU member states in 2020, foresaw the delivery of 300 million shots by the end of June 2021.

But the company delivered only 30 million of a projected 120 million in the first quarter of the year.

The court ruling handed down Friday only covered deliveries from this period.

AstraZeneca is also set to fall massively short of the original 180-million-dose target for the second quarter.

The company has indicated it aims to fill the whole 300-million order by the end of the year.

Some of the urgency surrounding the AstraZeneca supply shortfalls has now ebbed: After getting off to a relatively slow start, the EU has now fully vaccinated close to a third of its adult population, according to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control.
By far the biggest supplier to the bloc is joint German-US venture BioNTech/Pfizer. Despite the difficulties, AstraZeneca remains the second-largest producer of shots shipped to the EU, followed by Moderna.

Nonetheless, a separate, larger case scrutinizing in more depth whether AstraZeneca did breach its contractual obligations to the bloc is set to kick off in September.

This could potentially result in major fines for the company.