Europe's vaccine rollout has just suffered its second major loss of the week after a court in Brussels ruled that AstraZeneca will only need to deliver a fraction of the jabs that it promised the EU, at a slower pace than the current delivery schedule requires.
That's the second piece of bad news for the Continent's vaccine rollout this week following German biotech firm CureVac's revelation that its COVID-19 jab (intended to be a key player in Germany's campaign) was found to be only 47% effective in a late-stage trial. While efficacy numbers do change from trial to trial, and final results are due out in a few weeks, analysts said they don't expect much of a shift. German officials have insisted that the set won't delay the vaccine rollout, but with restrictions on the AstraZeneca jab still in place, supplies remain restricted. Though ultimately it will be poorer countries who suffer because of CureVac's failure.
Circling back to Friday's court ruling, the FT reports that a court in Brussels denied Europe's attempt to hold AstraZeneca accountable for its failure to keep its vaccine-delivery commitments, which were caused by supply disruptions tied to a factory in the Netherlands. However, the court did rule that AstraZeneca must deliver 80MM doses by late September. The European Commission had demanded 300MM, and AZ has already supplied 70MM shots, meaning it only needs to deliver 10MM more over the summer, a target that should be easily met. The company is expected to deliver another 10MM doses by the end of June.
The result is a blow to the commission, which had wanted the company to be ordered to deliver 120m shots by the end of June, with a fine of €10 per dose per day for any shortfall, penalties that could have run into billions of euros.
However, officials insisted the case was justified and pointed to the judgment’s criticism of AstraZeneca’s “big mistake” in failing to honour the original delivery timetable.
In its ruling, the court determined that while the pharma company’s failure to deliver vaccines produced at an Oxford BioMedica plant in the UK was inconsistent with making the “best reasonable efforts” to meet its supply commitments as required by its contract, the court stopped short of ordering the company to use the plant to fulfill the European Commission's demands. This key finding was apparently enough for the Commission to declare that the court validated its few, even though it walked away from the legal battle pretty much empty-handed.
AstraZeneca said it looked forward to renewed collaboration with the commission. Jeffrey Pott, AstraZeneca’s general counsel, said: "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."
Ursula von der Leyen, president of the commission, also notched the verdict up as a win. "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," she said.
But since its own courts didn't deliver the outcome it wanted, will we now see the European Commission take another run at the UK?