On Friday, the court ruled that AstraZeneca had violated its contract with the EU and ordered it to provide a total of 80.2 million doses of vaccine to the EU by September 27—less than the 120 doses the EU wanted before the end of June.
A Belgian court ruled on Friday that AstraZeneca, a manufacturer of coronavirus vaccines, has “seriously violated” its contract with the European Union because a major legal dispute over delivery obligations has damaged the company’s image.
The court ordered AstraZeneca to deliver a total of 80.2 million doses of vaccine to the EU from the date of the contract to September 27. The ruling stated that the company did not appear to have made “best reasonable efforts” to meet the delivery schedule because it did not use its production base in the UK.
But the Anglo-Swiss company claimed victory, saying it was far below the total amount of 120 million doses of vaccine sought by the European Commission, the European Union’s executive branch, by the end of June. It also welcomes the court’s recognition that it is under unprecedented pressure.
AstraZeneca is regarded as a key pillar of EU vaccine promotion. Its contract with the committee is expected to distribute the initial 300 million doses and optionally another 100 million doses, but the delivery speed is much lower than the company’s initial expectations.
“We are satisfied with the court’s order,” Executive Vice President Jeffrey Porter said in a statement. “AstraZeneca has fully complied with the agreement reached with the European Commission, and we will continue to focus on the urgent task of providing effective vaccines.”
The committee also claimed victory because the judge had ordered the company to comply with the delivery schedule of 15 million doses before July 26, 20 million doses before August 23, and 15 million doses before September 27. It ordered a fine of 10 euros ($12) for each dose not delivered.
“This decision confirms the committee’s position: AstraZeneca has not fulfilled its commitments made in the contract. It is great to see the independent judge confirm this,” said Ursula von der Lein, President of the European Commission.
“This shows that our European vaccination campaign not only serves our citizens every day. It also shows that it is based on sound laws,” she said in a statement.
AstraZeneca’s image has been damaged by the slow production of its vaccines, but despite the EU’s dissatisfaction with the speed of delivery, the committee still recommends that the company’s vaccine is effective in preventing the coronavirus.
In the end, AstraZeneca is likely to easily satisfy the court’s order. By the end of March, it had provided 30 million doses. From March to June, it provided another 40 million doses. By September 27, it only needs to provide 10 million doses of the 80.2 million doses of vaccine.
If the committee is still dissatisfied, it plans to hold two additional hearings in September.
From the very beginning, the committee claimed that it had initiated an emergency legal process, which was launched at the Brussels Court of First Instance last month, just to ensure the vaccine doses promised by EU member states.
It accused AstraZeneca of dishonesty in providing injections to other countries (especially the UK), and argued that the company should use its production base in the UK to help fulfill EU orders.
But AstraZeneca argued that during the once-in-a-century pandemic, the challenge of producing and delivering vaccines could not be foreseen, and its UK site was mainly used to service its contract with the British government.
However, in the 67-page ruling, the court hinted that the company may not use all available means to meet its EU supply schedule, including the Oxford Biomedica and Halix sites in the UK. This may be regarded as failure to use “best reasonable endeavours” to perform its contract.
AstraZeneca said in a statement that it “now looks forward to re-cooperating with the European Commission to help fight the pandemic in Europe.”
Although deliveries will continue this year, the committee has decided not to renew the contract with the company.