A Belgian court values EU claims that there is an emergency situation that deserves an order for the drug manufacturer to deliver 20 million more shots of COVID-19 than it had promised so far in late June.
The European Union attacked the “failure” of the supply of AstraZeneca Plc’s Covid-19 vaccine and demanded sanctions worth millions of euros if the company cannot fulfill an urgent order for more doses in the last round of a bitter legal dispute over the pharmacist’s alleged unfulfilled promises.
In a hearing that kicked off on Wednesday, a Belgian court assesses EU claims that there is an emergency situation that deserves an order for the drug manufacturer to deliver 20 million more shots than it had promised by the end of June.
The company would have to pay a fine of 10 euros ($ 12) a day for expired vaccines if it cannot comply, a European Commission lawyer told the Brussels Court of First Instance on Wednesday.
Delays in the supply of vaccines endanger the health of millions of EU citizens, said Fanny Laune, a lawyer representing the EU executive. “We need to vaccinate quickly and widely to reduce the mortality rate, without AstraZeneca vaccines we can’t.”
Astra’s supply contract with the EU was highlighted after delivering only 30 million doses in the first quarter, compared to the original target of 120 million. The company blamed the lack of difficulties in producing the vaccine on European plants. The EU has insisted the company should have relied on British facilities, raising questions about Astra’s separate deal with the UK
The same court will examine later this year whether Astra breached the terms of its contract. Another EU lawyer, Rafael Jafferali, told judges earlier that the company had not tried to use all of its production facilities to comply with the EU order and that the company’s record so far is “ obviously a failure ”. It was “blatant” that the company had exported some 50 million doses outside the EU, mainly to the UK and Japan at the same time.
Offer from the United Kingdom
The EU wants the court to require Astra to deliver 90 million more doses by the end of June, 20 million more than it plans to deliver on that date to reach the 120 million target. The EU is also requesting 180 million doses by the end of September to fulfill the full 300 million dose contract ordered last year.
Europe slowly began vaccinating its 448 million people, in part due to uncertainties over the supply of vaccines, which hampered efforts to reopen economic activity after the coronavirus pandemic forced the region to unprecedented recession last year.
Aside from the dispute over deliveries, the Astra vaccine has been mired in controversy in Europe over the alleged side effects of coagulation, which has led some EU members to limit its use to specific age groups. The European Medicines Agency has warned doctors to check on patients who may be vulnerable to clots.
The EU has turned to Pfizer Inc. and BioNTech SE to obtain an additional 1.8 billion vaccines.
AstraZeneca’s lawyer, Hakim Boularbah, argued that the company made it clear to the EU that the manufacture of a new vaccine was full of uncertainties. The contract includes a provision that the company would not be liable for any delay, he said.
The drug maker is not selling its opportunity for profit, but the prospect of a long legal battle with 27 governments increases the risk of litigation and damage costs.
The Brussels Court of First Instance could decide within a month on the EU’s request for an order to supply the contested vaccines.
Nearly half of EU adults have now received at least one vaccine, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said in a tweet on Tuesday.