The European Commission wants the company to pay fines of € 10 per dose per day if it does not deliver an additional 20 million shots by the end of June, a European bloc lawyer told a Brussels court on Wednesday.
The request is part of a lawsuit launched by the European Commission to force AstraZeneca to deliver 90 million doses in the second quarter of the year rather than the 70 million currently planned. The lawsuit is an escalation of a battle between the EU and the company over long-standing delivery shortfalls on the 300m shooting contract.
AstraZeneca said its lawyers will present its case later on Wednesday.
Rafael Jafferali, an EU lawyer, told the Belgian capital court that the company “had not even tried to honor the contract” with the EU.
AstraZeneca was originally expected to deliver up to 300 million doses to the EU in the first six months of this year, but that forecast has been reduced to just 100 million after production issues . The commission wants the court to order the company to increase that figure to 120 million.
“The European Union does not accept the late delivery of vaccines by AstraZeneca and considers this to be a breach of the contract,” the commission told the Financial Times. “AstraZeneca needs to catch up with the agreed schedule as soon as possible.”
The EU argues that AstraZeneca should have made up the shortfall by using 50 million doses from other manufacturing sites named as possible production sources in the contract between the two parties. Almost 40 million of these shots were taken in the UK and most of the rest in the US.
AstraZeneca insists it has done everything in its power to meet the enormous challenge of scaling up the complex production of Covid-19 vaccines. The company has consistently maintained that it made the “best reasonable efforts” required by the contract to meet the EU delivery schedule.
In an interview with the Financial Times last week, Managing Director Pascal Soriot said it was not “bad luck” that sites supplying the EU are grappling with production problems, while others, like one in South Korea, have not.
The EU has been particularly irritated that AstraZeneca has been more successful in fulfilling its UK contract. Soriot said the original contract between the UK government and the University of Oxford, before AstraZeneca became a partner, provided for priority access to vaccines produced at UK manufacturing sites.
AstraZeneca argues that it told the EU in its original tender on July 24, 2020 that UK manufacturing facilities would only produce doses for the EU once they satisfied UK orders.
AstraZeneca is still the second largest supplier to the EU after BioNTech / Pfizer. Unlike many of its competitors, AstraZeneca is providing the vaccine on a non-profit basis for the duration of the pandemic.
The 20 million extra doses that the committee is asking the company to do would make little difference in accelerating vaccine deployment in the EU. Some countries have restricted the use of AstraZeneca due to rare but potentially fatal side effects. Denmark has completely stopped using it.
But more shots from AstraZeneca would give the EU a bigger cushion as it struggles to meet the goal of fully vaccinating 70% of its adult population, or around 255 million people, by July. The bloc currently estimates it will have received 519 million doses of all vaccines by the end of June, including 55 million single doses of Johnson & Johnson.
EU officials have suggested that additional doses of AstraZeneca could come from the United States, where the jab has still not been approved for use, or from another international manufacturing site, such as China.
A verdict in the Belgian court case is expected next month. The commission has also launched a separate action for damages for what it alleges to be AstraZeneca’s overall breach of its contract. The company disputes this assertion.