The European Union is seeking to slap UK-Swedish pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca with a potentially multi-million dollar fine over failure to deliver the COVID-19 vaccines under contract.
The bloc's lawyer, Rafael Jafferali, has announced that the EU wants AstraZeneca to pay 10 euros ($12.2) for each day of delay multiplied by the number of doses due to be shipped. Additionally, Brussels wants the judge to impose 10-million euro fines for every breach of contract they find during the proceedings. The case will be reviewed in a Belgian court.
"AstraZeneca did not even try to respect the contract", Jafferali said during the first hearing in the case.
The court is expected to issue a ruling on the case in June.
Scandal Over 'Diverted' Vaccine Shipments
The drugmaker has delivered only 1/3 of all COVID-19 vaccines it was expected to ship by June, but it insists that the contract signed with the EU was non-binding and that under the document AstraZeneca pledged to make the "best reasonable efforts" to deliver all ordered jabs on time.
However, the EU's lawyer insists the pharmaceutical giant actually "diverted" the shots destined for the bloc under the contract to other countries. Specifically, Brussels believes that around 39 million jabs produced at the company's UK factory had been improperly withheld – a claim that earlier sparked a conflict between London and the EU.
The bitter conflict between the bloc and its former member erupted after Brussels accused London of blocking exports of domestically-produced vaccines to the EU and grabbing the EU-made ones in addition, thus hampering European vaccination efforts. The EU even threatened to unilaterally block all vaccine exports to the UK. London rejected these claims, with UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson denouncing "vaccine nationalism in all its forms".
Jafferali recalled that under the contract AstraZeneca pledged to avoid signing other agreements that would impede its ability to deliver the vaccines ordered by the EU. He also accused the drugmaker of failing to warn the bloc in time about imminent vaccine supply shortages. The company itself insists that the jabs produced at the British factory had been rightfully reserved by the UK under a contract with the University of Oxford, who developed the AstraZeneca vaccine.