A lawyer for AstraZeneca has today told the European Union’s lawyers that they are not ‘delivering shoes’ after they were accused not ‘even trying’ to respect its contract with the 27-nation bloc for the supply of Covid-19 vaccines.
The EU took the Anglo-Swedish firm to court after the drugmaker said it would aim to deliver only 100million doses of its vaccine by the end of June, instead of the 300million foreseen in the supply contract.
The EU wants the company to deliver at least 120million vaccines by the end of June. AstraZeneca had delivered 50million doses at the beginning of May, one-fourth of the 200million vaccines foreseen in the contract.
But a lawyer for AstraZeneca argued in court on Wednesday that the firm’s contract with the EU was not binding and stressed the complexity of manufacturing a new vaccine.
‘This is not a contract for the delivery of shoes or T-shirts,’ AstraZeneca’s lawyer Hakim Boularbah told the court in the first hearing on the substance of the legal case.
The company has repeatedly said the contract was not binding as it only committed to make ‘best reasonable efforts’ in delivering doses. AstraZeneca’s lawyer also told the judge the vaccine was sold at cost.
It comes after some EU leaders sparked fears for AstraZeneca’s safety by deeming it ‘quasi-effective’, claims which were later proven to be baseless scaremongering, which eroded public confidence in the jab while some countries stopped offering it.
In court on Wednesday, AstraZeneca’s lawyer Hakim Boularbah (pictured) said they are not delivering ‘shoes or T-shirts’ after the EU accused the firm of not respecting their contract
European Union lawyer Rafael Jafferali (pictured) on Wednesday asked for penalties of millions of euros per day to be imposed on AstraZeneca for allegedly failing to respect its contract
Earlier today, a lawyer for the EU asked for penalties of millions of euros per day to be imposed on AstraZeneca after accusing them of not respecting its contract.
The EU’s legal team demanded an upfront fine of 10million euros ($12 million) plus ’10 euros per dose and per day of delay’ for each dose as compensation. If the judge accepted it, the penalty would apply from July 1 this year.
‘AstraZeneca did not even try to respect the contract,’ the EU’s lawyer, Rafael Jafferali, told a Brussels court on Wednesday.
Jafferali said the drugmaker had not delivered to the bloc the 50million doses produced in factories that are listed in the contract as suppliers to the EU – including 39 million doses manufactured in Britain, 10million produced in the United States and one million in the Netherlands.
The lawyer said these doses were ‘diverted’ to other clients.
AstraZeneca has said doses produced in Britain were reserved under a contract the British government signed with the University of Oxford, which developed the vaccine.
Jafferali claimed AstraZeneca had pledged in the EU contract not to have other engagements that would prevent it from abiding by the terms of the deal.
The lawyer also said AstraZeneca had failed to communicate to the EU in a timely manner the magnitude of its supply problems because it repeatedly sent messages, including publicly, that it was able to meet its targets, before finally admitting there were large shortfalls in March.
The EU took AstraZeneca to court in April in a bid to force the Anglo-Swedish drugmaker to deliver 90million more doses of its Covid vaccine by July (file photo)
The company had warned the EU in December of production problems, but communicated only at the end of January, just before the start of deliveries, a much larger cut than initially expected for the first-quarter.
Another lawyer for the EU, Charles-Edouard Lambert, claimed that AstraZeneca decided to reserve production at its Oxford site for Britain.
‘This is utterly serious. AstraZeneca did not use all the means at its disposal. There is a double standard in the way it treats the U.K. and member states,’ he said.
A verdict is expected next month.
The row has eroded public confidence in the AstraZeneca jab, which is suffering from a negative perception in some countries because of worries over links to very rare fatal blood clots that can prove fatal.
Whether the damage done by raising fears over blood clots will be repaired remains to be seen. Denmark stopped using AstraZeneca as early as April, followed later by Norway and Austria, while other countries restricted its use to older adults.
The EU launched a vaccine war in January when it was notified by AstraZeneca to expect a shortfall in doses as Brexit-Britain raced ahead with inoculations.
Leaders like Emmanuel Macron lashed out at the UK, saying that the jab developed by Oxford University was only ‘quasi-effective’ – a claim later shown to be baseless scaremongering by the EU’s own medicines regulator.
The bloc meanwhile lurched to a policy of embargoing exports, condemned as ‘stupid’ even by Jean Claude Juncker, to force AstraZeneca into delivering supplies.
As Brexit-Britain raced ahead with rolling out the Covid doses, AstraZeneca supplied 30million does to the Bloc by the end of the first quarter, instead of the 100million it had pledged to deliver in its contract.
The EU blamed the manufacturer, but the reason why Britain and the United States have had such successful vaccine roll-outs compared to the EU is because they were able to secure the doses by cutting red tape.
Brussels, on the other hand, signed contracts with AstraZeneca much later due to its vast bureaucratic red tape.
They were also more reliant on receiving doses from Pfizer and Moderna, which were hit with early production woes.
The commission, which has procured vaccines on behalf of the whole of the EU, initially intended the AstraZeneca jab as the main workhorse in the bloc’s inoculation drive.
It has now switched to the more expensive Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine as its mainstay.
Another EU lawyer, Charles-Edouard Lambert (pictured centre with Jafferali and Fanny Laune), claimed that AstraZeneca decided to reserve production at its Oxford site for Britain
By the end of the first quarter, AstraZeneca (pictured: lawyers (pictured Clemence Van Muylder, Hakim Boularbah and Stephanie De Smedt) supplied 30million doses to the Bloc
About 300million doses of vaccine have been delivered in Europe – a region with around 450million inhabitants, with about 245 million already administered.
Around 46 per cent of the EU population have had at least one dose.
In January, the European Medicines Regulator (EMA) approved the AstraZeneca jab for all age groups, but a number of EU countries, including France and Germany, refused to recommend it to people over 65.
At the beginning of March, France and Germany were forced into humiliating U-turns and approved the jab for 65 to 74-year-olds.
But just weeks later, they were among 13 countries which suspended use of the vaccine after sporadic reports of blood clots.
Now, a number of other countries have restricted the AstraZeneca’s jab to older adults, as in France, for instance, it is reserved for those aged 55 and over.
On April 7, the regulator conceded there was a ‘possible link’ between AstraZeneca and blood clots, but said neither age group nor gender were a defining risk factor.
Most countries then restarted use of the vaccines after the EMA came out and said that the incidence of blood clots was actually lower among those who had received a jab than it was in the general population.
This week, MailOnline revealed a growing number of people are suffering from blood clotting disorders after their second dose of AstraZeneca’s Covid vaccine.
The UK’s medical regulator found 15 cases in people recently given a top-up dose by May 12, the most recent count, up from six at the start of the month.
So far, 9million Britons have been given two doses of AstraZeneca’s jab, meaning the extremely rare clots are occurring in around one in 600,000 people.
Scientists told MailOnline this week that it was ‘disappointing’ the extremely rare complication was becoming more frequent in double-jabbed patients.
The clots — which can occur in the brain — are happening alongside abnormally low platelet levels, known as thrombocytopenia.
But the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency said symptoms were ‘milder’ and less frequent than after the first dose.
The EU launched a vaccine war in January when it was notified by AstraZeneca to expect a shortfall in doses as Brexit-Britain raced ahead with inoculations (file photo)
As of May 12, the MHRA had spotted 294 cases of the clots in Britons given an initial injection, affecting about one in 80,000.
The conditions were found to be occurring more frequently in young people, which has led to the British jab being restricted for use in under-40s.
Doctors are also being told to look out for signs of the most common type of stroke following the Oxford coronavirus vaccine, after three British patients were admitted to hospital and one died.
Two women in their 30s and a man in his 40s suffered ischaemic strokes after having the vaccine.
Previous reports of rare blood clots from the jab have specifically involved cerebral venous thrombosis – a rare form of stroke caused by the blockage of specific veins.
But this is the first time AstraZeneca’s vaccine has been linked to ischaemic strokes – the most common type and occurs when clots form in major arteries, blocking the flow of blood and oxygen to the brain.
Specialists from the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery at University College London (UCL) said vaccine-linked incidences were incredibly rare and far more likely to happen in people who catch Covid.
Nevertheless, they urged doctors to be on the lookout for classic stroke symptoms — such as face, arm or leg weakness, or impaired speech — in anyone who had the jab between four and 28 days later.