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"Didn't even try": EU lawyer accuses AstraZeneca of contract breach

BRUSSELS, May 26 (Reuters) - A lawyer for the European Union accused AstraZeneca on Wednesday of not having even tried to respect its contract with the 27-nation bloc for the supply of COVID-19 vaccines and of failing to warn it in time of large cuts to deliveries.

The EU took the Anglo-Swedish firm to court in April after the drugmaker said it would aim to deliver only 100 million doses of its vaccine by the end of June, instead of the 300 million foreseen in the supply contract.

The EU wants the company to deliver at least 120 million vaccines by the end of June.

“AstraZeneca did not even try to respect the contract,” the EU’s lawyer, Rafael Jafferali, told a Brussels court in the first hearing on the substance of the legal case.

AstraZeneca’s lawyer was due to address the court later on Wednesday. The company has repeatedly said the contract was not binding as it only committed to make “best reasonable efforts” in delivering doses.

Jafferali said that principle had not been respected because the drugmaker had not delivered to the bloc the 50 million doses produced in factories that are listed in the contract as suppliers to the EU, including 39 million doses manufactured in Britain.

The company has said that doses produced in Britain were reserved under a contract the British government signed with the University of Oxford, which developed the vaccine.

Jafferali said 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 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.

Reporting by Francesco Guarascio @fraguarascio Editing by John Chalmers, Kirsten Donovan

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