Covid-19 vaccinations

European Commission sues AstraZeneca for Covid-19 vaccine delays

Lawyers for the European Commission, left, and AstraZeneca right, prepare arguments at a hearing at the main courthouse in Brussels, 26 May 2021.
Lawyers for the European Commission, left, and AstraZeneca right, prepare arguments at a hearing at the main courthouse in Brussels, 26 May 2021. © Virginia Mayo/AP

Pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca was in court Wednesday, facing the European Commission, which says the company did not honour its contracts to deliver Covid-19 vaccination doses, and slowed European inoculation campaigns

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The Commission, which is responsible for procuring vaccinations for the entire EU, is suing AstraZeneca to force it to deliver 90 million more doses of its Covid-19 vaccine before July, and face financial penalties for not delivering on a mid-June deadline.

In the first quarter of 2021, AstraZeneca delivered only 30 million doses, out of the 120 million it agreed to supply to the EU. For the current quarter, which runs until June 30, the company plans to deliver only 70 million of the 180 million in the contract.

EU lawyer Rafael Jafferali told the court Wednesday that the company expects to deliver the full 300 million doses by the end of December - a delay which is "obviously a failure."

The Commission argues the company should have used all of its production sites to supply the EU, but instead it favoured the United Kingdom, by not exporting doses produced at its two UK-based plants.

AstraZeneca says it has fully complied with its contract with the EU, and has argued it made its best effort to deliver vaccines on time, despite difficulties in manufacturing. It said it had warned the EU had about delays as early as February. 

Lawyers for the company will address the court later Wednesday.

Shifting away from AstraZeneca

The Commission had intended to use the AstraZeneca vaccine as a pillar of its vaccination campaign. Now it has shifted its focus to the BioNTech/Pfizer vaccine.

Now that there are more than 2.5 billion vaccine doses from various manufacturers in Europe, the Commission might find it difficult to prove the urgency of its case against AstraZeneca.

Lawyers for both sides will argue their cases Wednesday in a court in Brussels, as the contract was signed in Belgium. Another hearing is scheduled for Friday, with a judgment to be delivered at a future date that has not been announced.

In addition to the emergency action, the Commission has started the process to claim for damages, though a hearing has not yet been set by the court.

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