AstraZeneca vowed to “defend strongly” in court on Monday after the EU executive sued the Anglo-Swedish pharmaceutical giant over missing vaccine deliveries.
The Commission said AstraZeneca had broken its contract after losing hundreds of millions of doses on the order of 300 million doses from the EU at the end of the first six months of the year.
AstraZeneca has denied breaking the terms of its contract, which says the company must do its “best efforts” to honor the order. He told the EU he would deliver around 70 million doses by the end of June.
“AstraZeneca has fully respected the advance purchase agreement with the European Commission and will defend itself strongly in court. We believe that any dispute is without merit and we welcome this opportunity to resolve this dispute as quickly as possible,” said said a spokesperson.
“After an unprecedented year of scientific discoveries, highly complex negotiations and manufacturing challenges, our company is on track to deliver nearly 50 million doses to European countries by the end of April, according to our plan.”
However, a spokesperson for the European Commission said earlier Monday that “the terms of the contract have not been honored”.
Announcing the trial, he said: “The commission has indeed taken this legal action on its own behalf and on behalf of the 27 member states which are fully aligned in their support for this proceeding.”
The spokesperson said AstraZeneca had continuously broken the contract and that there was a lack of a “reliable strategy” to ensure the timely supply of jabs or to catch up with backlogs of orders.
Brussels plays the blame game
Brussels attributes this deficit to the slow pace of its vaccination rollout, which has now started to accelerate. AstraZeneca blames production issues for the delays, but there are suspicions in Brussels that some EU stocks may have ended up in the UK.
The trial was opened on Friday after discussions with EU capitals. Some influential governments doubted the action would help the EU get more hits, but the spokesperson said the lawsuit was aimed at ensuring “rapid delivery of vaccines”.
The lawsuit was filed on Friday in the Brussels Court of First Instance and will pass through the notoriously slow Belgian legal system. The move has been expected since a notification letter was sent in March.
Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has already suggested that the contract with AstraZeneca should not be renewed and Brussels confirmed last week that the Commission will not trigger a clause in the current contract for an additional 100 million doses.
The president of the European Commission also warned that AstraZeneca will not be allowed to export doses made in the EU to countries such as Britain until the deficit is closed.
The latest dramatic turn in a row that has dragged on since January comes after many EU countries introduced age restrictions on the vaccine due to a possible link to very rare blood clots.
AstraZeneca jabs remain unused in the Netherlands
Meanwhile, most of the 11 million doses of AstraZeneca vaccine ordered by the Netherlands will go unused, said the head of the vaccination department at the Dutch public health institute.
Jaap Van Delden has been criticized by Dutch doctors after telling the newspaper AD that there would be so many other vaccines available that the Oxford vaccine would not be needed.
The Netherlands, like a number of other EU countries, have introduced age restrictions for the AstraZeneca vaccine, limiting its use to those over 60, fearing the vaccine could cause very rare blood clots . Public confidence in the vaccine was eroded, which also affected vaccine collection, the Dutch News website said.