(Recasts, adds details)
By Francesco Guarascio and Alistair Smout
BRUSSELS/LONDON, June 18 (Reuters) – AstraZeneca will have
to deliver fewer COVID-19 vaccines to the European Union than
the bloc had hoped after Brussels lost its bid to speed up
deliveries on Friday, in the first of its legal actions against
AstraZeneca said that the EU had lost its legal
case, but European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen
said the court ruling supported its view that the Anglo-Swedish
pharmaceutical giant had failed to honour its commitments.
The row plunged the EU into crisis earlier this year as
states scrambled for shots, highlighting the pressure on them to
speed up vaccinations. Brussels has since largely cut ties with
AstraZeneca, choosing not to buy any more of its shots for now.
The drugmaker had committed to do its best to deliver 300
million doses to the 27-nation bloc by the end of June, but
production delays led it to revise this to 100 million vaccines.
This delayed the EU’s vaccination drive as the bloc had
initially bet on AstraZeneca to deliver the largest volume of
its shots, sparking a bitter row and EU legal action to get at
least 120 million doses by the end of June.
However, the judge ruled that AstraZeneca must deliver only
80.2 million doses by a deadline of Sept. 27. The drugmaker said
it would “substantially exceed” that by the end of June.
The court said in a statement that AstraZeneca must deliver
15 million doses by July 26, another 20 million by Aug. 23 and a
further 15 million by Sept. 27, to reach a total of 50 million
doses, which are in addition to 30 million that had already been
given to the EU when the legal case began.
Should it miss the deadlines in the ruling, AstraZeneca
would face a penalty of “10 euros ($11.8) per dose not
delivered”, the Commission said, less than the 10 euros per dose
per day fine it had sought in bringing its legal action.
AstraZeneca will remain bound to do its best to deliver 300
million doses to the EU, without a precise timetable, and a new
hearing could be held in September if it failed to do so, an EU
lawyer told a news conference.
The lawyer also said the judgment meant that as a proof of
best effort AstraZeneca will have to deliver COVID-19 vaccines
from a factory in Britain, if needed to meet its EU commitments.
The company had said it could not immediately deliver to the
EU doses from an Oxford Biomedica factory because it had to
supply Britain first.
AstraZeneca said other measures sought by the Commission had
been dismissed and the court had found that the EU had no
exclusivity or right of priority over other parties.
“The judgment also acknowledged that the difficulties
experienced by AstraZeneca in this unprecedented situation had a
substantial impact on the delay,” it said in a statement.
“AstraZeneca now looks forward to renewed collaboration with
the European Commission to help combat the pandemic in Europe.”
The EU last month launched a second legal action against
AstraZeneca over an alleged breach of the supply contract, which
will continue after the summer. Friday’s ruling was over whether
AstraZeneca had to speed up vaccine deliveries.
(Reporting by Francesco Guarascio in Brussels, Alistair Smout
in London, additional reporting by Muvija M in Bengaluru;
Editing by David Evans, Catherine Evans. Louise Heavens and