AstraZeneca plant inspected by Italian police at EU's request

Inspection is fresh sign of breakdown in relations between Brussels and Anglo-Swedish vaccine supplier

An AstraZeneca plant was inspected by the Italian police at the request of Brussels in a sign of the breakdown in relations between the Anglo-Swedish vaccine supplier and the EU.

Officers were sent into the facility in the town Anagni, east of Rome, on Saturday evening after the European commission contacted the Italian government with concerns.

AstraZeneca has been accused by the commission of overselling its ability to deliver doses and reneging on its contract with the EU after delivering less than a quarter of the 120m doses it had promised this quarter. The EU’s executive branch believes the company has unfairly prioritised its contract with the UK government.

Following a report in the Italian media that a stockpile of 29m doses had been discovered destined for the UK, AstraZeneca issued a statement dismissing the claim as “inaccurate”.

AstraZeneca said no exports were currently planned outside of the EU other than to developing countries via the Covax facility, and it was incorrect to describe the batches in the factory – run by the US-based company Catalent to provide vial filling and packaging – as a “stockpile”.

“There are 13m doses of vaccine waiting for quality control release to be dispatched to Covax as part of our commitment to supply millions of doses to low-income countries, the vaccine was made outside the EU and brought to the Anagni plant to be filled into vials,” the company said.

It added that a further 16m doses were waiting for quality control release before being dispatched to Europe. “Close to 10m doses will be delivered to EU countries during the last week of March, [and] the balance in April as the doses are approved for release after quality control.”

A statement from the office of the Italian prime minister, Mario Draghi, confirmed that the Anagni plant had been inspected at the commission’s request and that batches found were destined for Belgium.

La Stampa had reported on Wednesday that the doses – almost twice the amount the EU has so far received from AstraZeneca – were found “hidden” in the factory following a search by Italian police on Saturday at the request of the European commission, and that they were probably destined for the UK.

Draghi caused controversy this month after blocking 250,000 AstraZeneca vaccine doses from being exported from the Anagni plant to Australia in response to the company failing to meet its EU delivery targets.

It is at least the second time that the commission has asked national authorities to investigate AstraZeneca production facilities. In January, Belgian officials were asked to probe a plant in Seneffe, south of Brussels. EU officials were suspicious of claims by the company that the plant had problems with low yield. It has long been suspected that doses had instead been shipped on a large scale to the UK, a suspicion for which no evidence has yet emerged.

Contributors

Angela Giuffrida in Rome and Daniel Boffey in Brussels

The GuardianTramp

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