Belgian court gives AstraZeneca limited win in vaccines dispute with Commission

The drugmaker AstraZeneca must deliver 80 million coronavirus vaccine doses to the EU by September 27 or else pay a fine, a Belgian court ruled Friday.

That total isn’t nearly as much as the EU wanted, however. Both the company and the European Commission spun the announcement as a win — the latest twist in the bitter dispute between the two sides.

The court ruled the drugmaker has to deliver 15 million doses by July 26; 20 million doses by August 23; and a final 15 million doses by September 27, according to the court. This total of 50 million doses comes on top of the 30 million doses that AstraZeneca delivered at the end of the first quarter of 2021. The company will incur a €10 fine per dose not delivered, according to this schedule.

The Commission had asked the court to push the company to deliver 120 million doses by the end of June, and its entire promised shipment of 300 million doses by the end of September.

The company so far has delivered more than 70 million doses to the bloc “and will substantially exceed 80.2 million doses by the end of June 2021,” AstraZeneca said in a statement reacting to Friday’s ruling.

The Commission said the court ruling confirmed the company had breached its contract. The Commission wrote in a statement that the court ruled “that AstraZeneca committed a serious breach (‘faute lourde’) of its contractual obligations with the EU.”

The court also ruled that AstraZeneca should have used its British production sites to deliver to the EU “especially given the big delays in deliveries to the EU,” the Commission said. To date, no doses from those sites have gone to the bloc.

“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 von der Leyen said in the statement. “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.”

But AstraZeneca also portrayed the news as a win. It said other claims made by the Commission “have been dismissed,” and in particular, it noted the “Court found that the European Commission has no exclusivity or right of priority over all other contracting parties.”

The points about the serious breach; the use of the British production sites; and the other claims dismissed by the court were not addressed in the press statement from the Belgian court. 

Friday’s announcement is only an interim decision by the court. The Commission also has ongoing court hearings that will continue after the summer.

CORRECTION: A previous version of this story misrepresented the court’s verdict. It has been updated to include statements from the court and the Commission.

This article is part of POLITICO’s premium policy service: Pro Health Care. From drug pricing, EMA, vaccines, pharma and more, our specialized journalists keep you on top of the topics driving the health care policy agenda. Email pro@politico.eu for a complimentary trial. 

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