A court in Brussels has ruled in favour of the European Commission in a dispute with Covid-19 vaccine producer AstraZeneca (AZ) over the delivery of millions of doses.
The dispute dates back to January, when AZ announced that production difficulties meant it would have trouble meeting its commitment to deliver 300 million doses to the EU by the end of June. The AZ vaccine requires two doses for a person to be fully vaccinated, so the promised delivery would only fully vaccinate 150 million of the EU’s population.
But as the end of June approaches, only 80 million doses have in fact been delivered, and AZ has long made it clear the target will not be met. The EU has therefore taken the company to court.
The hearing took place in a Brussels court because the matter at issue is a commercial contract with a third party, and contracts with outside parties always stipulate that Belgian law is where disputes will be settled. The EU of course has its own court in Luxembourg, but that is purely for matters relating to EU law.
The court in Brussels found for the Commission, but the ruling has a sting in the tail.
The court, too, has accepted that the 220 million doses outstanding will never be delivered on time by AZ, so it has tempered its order. Instead, the company must deliver 50 million doses by 27 September, according to a strict schedule: 15 million doses by 26 July; 20 million doses by 23 August; and 15 million doses by 27 September.
The penalty for non-compliance with the order, deadlines or quantities is €10 per dose not delivered.
“This decision confirms the position of the Commission: AstraZeneca did not live up to the commitments it made in the contract,” said Commission president Ursula Von der Leyen in a statement.
“It is good to see that an independent judge confirms this. This shows that our European vaccination campaign not only delivers for our citizens day by day. It also demonstrates that it was founded on a sound legal basis.”
The shortage of some 180 million vaccines, however, is sure to have an effect on the EU’s vaccination programme, although AZ has already been dropped for certain age groups in some countries.
The hope is that those who have received the AZ vaccine once will be able to receive a second shot, since the European Medicines Agency is still considering the possibility of replacing the second AZ shot with a shot of Pfizer, which appears to produce improved results over AZ times two.
AstraZeneca, meanwhile, put a positive spin on the ruling.
Jeffrey Pott, the company’s lawyer, said: “We are pleased with the Court’s order. AstraZeneca has fully complied with its agreement with the European Commission and we will continue to focus on the urgent task of supplying an effective vaccine, which we are delivering at no profit to help protect people in Europe and around the world from the deadliest pandemic in a generation.”