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AstraZeneca has claimed victory in its bitter legal spat with Brussels over jab supplies after a court ruled that it did not need to speed up vaccine deliveries.
Judges in Brussels threw out European Commission demands for immediate delivery of hundreds of millions of AstraZeneca jabs on the grounds that the company was struggling with "unprecedented" difficulties.
The FTSE 100 company said the court had ruled it needed to deliver just 80m doses of its Covid vaccine before the end of September. AstraZeneca said it would "substantially exceed" that number having already supplied the EU with more than 70m doses.
The court-dictated target is significantly below the 300m does by June 2021 agreed under the initial deal, which was later lowered to 100m.
Under the ruling, the European Commission said AstraZeneca needed to have delivered 15m doses by July 26, another 20m by August 23 and a further 15m by September 27.
If the company fails to meet the latest delivery schedule, as set out by the court, it will be fined €10 (£8.48) per dose not delivered - less arduous that the €10 per dose per day penalty that Brussels' lawyers had sought.
The ruling is a major moment in the bitter row between the pair that has centered around vaccine deliveries. Tensions flared earlier this year amid the lagging vaccine rollout across the EU.
Brussels had argued that AstraZeneca should deliver at least 120m doses of the vaccine by the end of June. It had said the drugmaker should start supplying the EU from its UK factories, where the jab rollout was moving much faster, to meet the "best efforts" clause in its contract.
On Friday, AstraZeneca said the judge ruled that the EU had no exclusivity or right of priority over other countries that the drugmaker had struck deals with.
"The judgment also acknowledged that the difficulties experienced by AstraZeneca in this unprecedented situation had a substantial impact on the delay," a company spokesman said.
However, lawyers for the European Commission said future AstraZeneca jabs could now come from an Oxford Biomedica plant in the UK.
In the ruling, the judge appeared to partially uphold the European Commission claim, finding that AstraZeneca had not made its "best reasonable efforts" to deliver the vaccines by excluding the British factory.
Ursula von der Leyen, the European Commission president, said the ruling was a "good result" for Europe.
"The court judgment ordering AstraZeneca to deliver 50m doses is good news for our vaccination campaign," she said.
"It is also a clear recognition that our advance purchase agreements have a sound legal basis. Our vaccines strategy delivers."
The vaccines are set to be delivered amid a major surge in vaccine supplies in Europe, with member states already set to receive 413m jabs in the three months to the end of June, and another 529m vaccines in the three months to September, most of which are made by Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson.
Take-up of AstraZeneca vaccines has been lower than other jabs following concerns over blood clotting earlier this year. In France, for example, studies have suggested that fewer than six in ten people offered the Astra vaccine have had it, compared with 99pc for the Pfizer jab.
Nevertheless, the European Commission said EU member states were still "keen" to receive AstraZeneca shots.
Lawyers said the need for these vaccines had increased since Thursday, when the Curevac vaccine was found to be only 47pc efficient, meaning it would not be able to yet receive European Medicines Agency authorisation.
The EU was due to receive 200m Curevac jabs immediately. One Commission lawyer said this meant that the need for AstraZeneca shots was "heavy".
The Commission is expected to analyse the situation before deciding on whether to proceed with a second legal case seeking financial penalties for the delays to the vaccine supply.