BRUSSELS (AP) — A Belgian court ruled Friday that coronavirus vaccine-maker AstraZeneca had committed a “serious breach” of its contract with the European Union amid a major legal battle over delivery obligations that has tarnished the company’s image.
The court ordered AstraZeneca to deliver a total of 80.2 million doses to the EU from the time the contract was agreed up until Sept. 27. The ruling said the company did not appear to have made a “best reasonable effort” to meet the delivery schedule because it had not used its U.K. production sites.
But the Anglo-Swedish company claimed victory, saying that this was far fewer than the 120 million doses that the EU’s executive branch, the European Commission, was seeking in total by the end of June. It also welcomed the court’s acknowledgement that it was under unprecedented pressure.
AstraZeneca was seen as a key pillar of the EU’s vaccine rollout. Its contract with the Commission foresaw an initial 300 million doses being distributed, with an option for another 100 million, but the speed of deliveries was far slower than the company originally thought.
“We are pleased with the Court’s order,” Executive Vice-President Jeffrey Pott said in a statement. “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.”
The Commission, for its part, also claimed a victory in that the judge had ordered the company to respect a delivery schedule of 15 million doses by July 26, 20 million doses by August 23 and 15 million doses by Sept. 27. It ordered a fine of 10 euros ($12) 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. It is good to see that an independent judge confirms this,” Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said.
“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,” she said in a statement.
AstraZeneca’s image has been hurt by the slow pace of its vaccine production, but despite EU dissatisfaction with the speed of deliveries the Commission still recommends the company’s shots as effective protection against the coronavirus.
Lorne Cook, The Associated Press