17th Jun 2021

EU chases 90m AstraZeneca vaccines in fresh legal battle

  • AstraZeneca plans delivering just 70 million doses of the 90 million requested by the EU (Photo: Tim Reckmann)

The European Union on Tuesday (11 May) launched fresh legal action against AstraZeneca - in a bid to oblige the company to deliver 90 million doses of its Covid-19 vaccine to EU member states by the end of June.

This is the second lawsuit filed by Brussels against the British-Swedish pharmaceutical company over delayed deliveries. But the multinational now could face financial penalties for failing to meet its contractual obligations.

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The European Commission said on Tuesday the aim of the new lawsuit was not to punish AstraZeneca with fines but "to make sure that the doses are delivered".

While both lawsuits have the same objective, now "the judge is called upon to examine whether there has been a violation of the advance purchase agreement," a commission spokesperson told reporters.

"We are convinced that we have a very sound argument in demanding what we are demanding before the courts," he said.

"There are several factories in the EU that should allow the company to produce the necessary doses," he added, pointing out that the bloc has "substantially" invested beforehand in vaccine-production capacities.

Speaking in a Belgian court on Tuesday, EU lawyer Rafael Jafferali asked AstraZeneca to provide member states with a total of 120 million vaccines by the end of June - 90 million doses in addition to the 30 million already delivered in the first quarter.

However, AstraZeneca previously announced it aims to ship some 70 million doses by the end of the second quarter, bringing the total to 100 million - a figure well below what the EU is demanding.

AstraZeneca's lawyer Hakim Boularbah confirmed this figure at the hearing on Tuesday.

Boularbah argued that the company did not infringe its contract with the EU since this deal is based on a so-called "best reasonable efforts" clause.

The EU is seeking a token penalty payment of €1, while the losses and damages are being assessed. But a real compensation would be set out at a later stage if approved by the judge.

Meanwhile, the EU is also seeking clarification on how AstraZeneca spent over €224m granted by the EU in September to buy vaccine ingredients, Reuters reported.

Beyond 2021

Under the EU Commission's contract with AstraZeneca, the company was supposed to deliver a total of 300 million doses to EU member states for the period between December and the end of June.

After the vaccine was approved by the EU drug regulator in January, the company was expected to deliver 90 million doses by the end of March. But this figure was cut to 40 million, and then reduced to 30 million shortly after - triggering the first EU lawsuit in late April.

Boularbah said on Tuesday that a new lawsuit was unnecessary given that there was one already initiated.

However, the judge gave the green light to the second case and set the next hearing for September.

In its first lawsuit, whose next hearing will take place on 26 May, the EU aims to accelerate the delivery of the doses - with a verdict expected before the end of June.

However, the second lawsuit, examining the merits of the issue, is set to last at least until next year.

Overall, the EU invested €2.9bn in the development of production capacities for six different vaccines. So far, the EU Commission has secured a total of 2.6bn vaccines on behalf of member states.

Currently, the BioNTech/Pfizer, Moderna, AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson vaccines are the only jabs approved in the EU.

EU takes AstraZeneca to court for 'breaching contract'

The European Union has launched legal action against the pharmaceutical multinational AstraZeneca for failing to meet its contractual obligations for the supply of Covid-19 vaccines, and for lacking a "reliable strategy" to ensure timely deliveries.

EU mulls legal action against AstraZeneca over shortfalls

The European Commission said on Thursday it has not yet decided whether to take legal action against AstraZeneca for failing to meet its contractual obligations - but repeated that all options are still on the table.

EU defends all vaccines, amid lower AstraZeneca take-up

The European Commission said that bloc's strict regulatory process for the evaluation and approval of vaccines is crucial to persuade citizens to get the jab, calling on member states to fight vaccine hesitancy with information.

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