Both sides hailed the ruling at the Brussels Court of First Instance as a victory.
Lawyers for the European Commission said that they won on “principle,” while AstraZeneca highlighted that the court had dismissed E.U. demands over deliveries and acknowledged difficulties the company faced in an “unprecedented situation.”
The court ruled that AstraZeneca would face fines of 10 euros ($12) per dose if it did not deliver 80 million doses by the end of September. That was significantly less than the E.U. demand for 120 million doses to be delivered by the end of June and for the full contract of 300 million doses to be fulfilled by the end of September.
AstraZeneca has already delivered 70 million doses and said it plans to send an additional 10 million doses by the end of the month, well ahead of the court-mandated schedule.
In a briefing after the ruling, European Commission lawyers did not comment on whether they would appeal.
The ruling said that AstraZeneca had not lived up to commitments to use its “best reasonable efforts” to fulfill its contract to the E.U. The company had used its production site in Oxford, England, for doses only for Britain, which is no longer in the E.U. The vaccine was developed along with the University of Oxford.
AstraZeneca had blamed production problems at a plant in Belgium for supply delays.
“It therefore seems that AstraZeneca has intentionally chosen not to use the means at its disposal to manufacture and deliver the disputed vaccines,” the ruling said. It also chastised AstraZeneca for communicating only “snippets of information on the production capacities of the manufacturing sites currently at its disposal.”
European Commission lawyers said they believed that the pace of deliveries would now accelerate, with more facilities put to use if needed. However, AstraZeneca said the ruling contains no legal obligation for it to use its British Oxford Biomedica plant for E.U. doses.
“We are pleased with the Court’s order,” Jeffrey Pott, general counsel for AstraZeneca, said in a statement. “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.”
AstraZeneca’s rollout in the E.U. has been beset with difficulties.
Many countries in the bloc are limiting use of the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine to those over 55 or 60 years old, because of links to rare, sometimes deadly, brain clots.
But the E.U. will probably continue to rely on AstraZeneca “heavily” going forward, a European Commission lawyer said Friday, speaking on the condition of anonymity in line with the briefing protocol.
With AstraZeneca vaccine in shorter supply, the E.U. seeks to expand use of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. The European Commission has said it expects Pfizer to have delivered 250 million doses by the end of June.
A potential new vaccine for E.U. use, by the German biotech company CureVac, had disappointing efficacy results in its late-stage trial, the company announced earlier this week, putting in doubt the potential delivery of millions of doses.
Ariès reported from Brussels.