EU fails in court action to secure urgent 120m doses of Oxford Covid vaccine

But Brussels court says AstraZeneca should earlier have used UK plants to fulfil EU deliveries

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Last modified on Fri 18 Jun 2021 12.00 EDT

The EU has failed in a legal attempt to secure an urgent 120m vaccine doses from AstraZeneca by the end of this month, while securing a judgment that sites in Oxford and Staffordshire should have been used in the past to make good on deliveries.

The court of first instance in Brussels ordered the Anglo-Swedish company to deliver just 10m more than it has already provided by the end of September, and make “best efforts”, including potentially the use of UK facilities, to provide the further 220m jabs to which it is contractually committed.

The ruling was welcomed by both sides. AstraZeneca said it would easily be able to meet the court’s dose demands, adding that it had defeated attempts to force it to use UK facilities to cater for the EU.

The European Commission said it had won the argument. In response to claims that the commission had expensively failed in achieving the central objective of getting more jabs more swiftly, lawyers claimed the case had pushed AstraZeneca to increase its performance in recent months.

Ursula von der Leyen, the European Commission president, said: “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.”

The court ordered AstraZeneca to pay just 30% of the European Commission’s legal fees, with a cap set at €4,000.

The EU had been enraged by AstraZeneca’s refusal earlier this year to use its UK sites to make good on a huge shortfall in deliveries.

The pharmaceutical giant had originally been expected to supply up to 300m doses to the EU in the first six months of this year but that forecast was cut to just 100m after production problems.

AstraZeneca’s chief executive, Pascal Soriot, had said he was unable to use his UK facilities for the EU as he had a prior contract with the British government which demanded priority for its residents on doses made in Britain.

The commission, with the support of member states, had sought a court order for AstraZeneca to deliver 120m vaccine doses cumulatively by the end of June 2021, and a total of 300m doses by the end of September 2021.

The EU’s executive branch had further sought an order that the company’s two UK sites would be used.

Instead, the judge ordered delivery of a total of 80m by 27 September 2021, an additional 10m on its current deliveries, and left it to the company to decide how to meet its further contractual commitments.

The court recognised, however, the company’s failure to use the vaccines made at an Oxford Biomedica plant in the UK to fulfil its EU contract was inconsistent with making “best reasonable efforts”.

Jeffrey Pott, AstraZeneca’s general counsel, 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.”

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