EU legal case against AstraZeneca begins in Brussels court

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BRUSSELS (Reuters) -The European Commission’s lawsuit against drugmaker AstraZeneca over COVID-19 vaccine supplies began at a Brussels court on Wednesday, where the bloc’s lawyers pressed for immediate deliveries from all factories, including from Britain. 

The case in the Brussels court is the latest twist in an often bad-humoured EU dispute with the Anglo-Swedish drugmaker, and at times with Britain. The bloc accuses the company of failure to respect its contract.

With the pandemic still raging across the continent, the AstraZeneca vaccine was seen as a central part of Europe’s immunisation campaign and a way to send coronavirus jabs to poorer countries because of its easier storage requirements.

But cuts and delays in AstraZeneca deliveries have weighed on the choppy inoculation campaign in the EU, which trails behind Britain, the United States or Israel on vaccination.

A lawyer for the EU executive Commission told the Brussels court hearing that the bloc was seeking immediate deliveries from all factories listed in its contract, including those in Britain, which is no longer a member of the European Union.

A lawyer representing AstraZeneca told the hearing, which is public and is being conducted under an emergency procedure, that the company contract did not include an obligation to deliver vaccines from all production plants.

The company has plants in EU members Belgium and the Netherlands, and also in Britain, which helped develop the two-jab coronavirus vaccine.

“AstraZeneca deeply regrets the decision of the European Commission to start this legal action in relation with the COVID-19 supply agreement. We hope to resolve this dispute as soon as possible,” company lawyer Hakim Boularbah said.

The Commission launched the proceedings accusing the company of failing to fulfil its contract for the supply of COVID-19 vaccines, and for not having a “reliable” plan to ensure timely deliveries.

In the court, the first session ended in just over an hour on Wednesday and the parties agreed to hold two hearings on May 26. The judge aims for a decision in June.

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