MILAN (Reuters) – AstraZeneca said on Wednesday that some 29 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines found in an inspection at a plant in Italy were destined for the EU and for donations to poorer countries through the COVAX scheme co-led by World Health. . Organization.
At the request of the European Commission, Italian security forces inspected a Catalent factory in Anagni, near Rome, over the weekend and found the vaccine dose warehouse, according to the Italian daily La Stampa.
Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi later confirmed the inspection report, saying that some of the dose batches were seized while two batches were shipped to Belgium. One batch can contain one million doses.
A wave of reactions to the report reflected the level of mistrust in the EU towards the Anglo-Swedish company, which cut its supply target to the EU at the end of June to 100 million from the 300 million foreseen in its contract with the 27-bloc of the nation. The 29 million doses found would be enough to vaccinate 14.5 million people.
“A stockpile of almost 30 million doses has been identified near Rome during an inspection we conducted. Now it has been seized, ”French government spokesman Gabriel Attal told reporters after a cabinet meeting. “The EU will not be the scapegoat for vaccines.”
Another French official said it was being considered whether the release of some lots could be blocked.
Later on Wednesday, AstraZeneca said that the majority of the doses at the Catalent plant were for the EU and the rest for the poorest countries supplied by the COVAX scheme co-led by the World Health Organization.
“There are currently no planned exports other than to the COVAX countries. There are 13 million doses of vaccine waiting for the quality control release to be shipped to COVAX, ”the company said.
The remaining 16 million will be shipped to Europe this month and in April, he said.
Mario Gargiulo, regional president of biologics for Europe at Catalent, told Reuters that having 29 million doses at the Anagni factory was in line with normal procedure and that the company often had more there.
Following AstraZeneca’s comments, Draghi told the Italian Parliament that EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen had told him on Saturday that there were some batches stored in the Catalent factory that needed to be checked because they were missing from the EU deliveries.
He said he ordered an inspection that identified “excess lots.”
“Today some lots have been seized and two have been sent to Belgium,” he said, adding that he did not know their final destination.
The European Commission declined to comment on the doses at the Anagni factory.
Earlier on Wednesday, UNICEF said on behalf of the COVAX vaccine exchange facility that projected deliveries of vaccines to all countries, including Vietnam, had to be delayed due to production delays.
An EU official said some of the doses at the Catalent plant could come from a vaccine factory in the Netherlands run by AstraZeneca subcontractor Halix.
The Anagni plant is responsible for bottling the AstraZeneca vaccines produced at the Halix factory and also at a plant in Belgium run by subcontractor Thermo Fisher Scientific.
AstraZeneca said the factory also bottles doses received from outside the EU and to be shipped to COVAX countries.
Both vaccine factories in Belgium and the Netherlands are listed in the contract AstraZeneca signed with the EU in August as EU suppliers.
The Halix factory has yet to be approved in the EU, as AstraZeneca did not submit sufficient data to the EU drug regulator. Nor has it been approved in Great Britain.
However, EU Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides said late Wednesday that the company had submitted a request for authorization and additional data, and that regulators are likely to make an assessment this week.
Vaccines produced there cannot be used in the EU until such approval is received. Kyriakides said it expected to see the EU deliveries from the site in late March.
Halix is also listed as a supplier to Great Britain, which urges the EU to allow the shipment of doses produced there. So far, Britain has not exported AstraZeneca vaccines to the EU, even though two UK plants are included in the EU contract as suppliers to the bloc.
Halix said it started producing vaccines for the EU in December and has the capacity to produce around 5 million doses per month. The company declined to comment on how many vaccines it had already produced or its destination.
Report of Michel Rose in Paris, Emilio Parodi in Milan and Francesco Guarascio and Philip Blenkinsop in Brussels; additional reporting by Giselda Vagnoni and Angelo Amante in Rome, Toby Sterling in Amsterdam and Alistair Smout in London; edited by Louise Heavens and Hugh Lawson