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EU inspection ‘finds’ 29m AstraZeneca doses in Italy

An EU inspection has identified a stockpile of 29m doses of the Oxford/AstraZeneca jab in Italy that Brussels is prepared to block for export if they are not destined for use in the bloc, a senior French official said.

“There was indeed an inspection this weekend at the Anagni factory [in Italy] which found 29m doses, and the destination of those doses must be clarified,” the official said on Wednesday.

The Anagni plant in Frosinone, Italy, is run by US company Catalent, which takes vaccine substance from other AstraZeneca suppliers and uses it to produce finished doses of the Covid-19 shot.

France and other EU member states — whose Covid-19 vaccination programmes have been outpaced by those of the UK and the US — are furious that factories across Europe have been exporting millions of doses to foreign markets while the EU has received no doses from elsewhere.

“Europe doesn’t want to be a useful idiot in all this,” the French official said, insisting that the EU was not targeting the UK but rather trying to ensure that AstraZeneca — which has cut planned delivery targets — fulfilled its commitments to the EU. 

“We have no interest or desire to have a permanent bilateral polemic with the UK but we are dealing with the facts,” the official said. “Millions of doses have been exported to the UK, and no doses have been exported in the other direction . . . Justice demands that we can call for reciprocity.”

So far, the only vaccine exports blocked by the EU have been 250,000 AstraZeneca doses from Italy destined for Australia. Officials have repeatedly said they have no issue with other producers such as Pfizer that have met their commitments to the EU.

The French official said that of 314 export requests to the EU, all had been approved except for the Australia shipment. Most of the requests were for the Pfizer vaccine, the official said.

Asked why the EU’s export control regime for vaccines also applied to developing countries expecting shipments from the Covax programme, the official said there had been “doubts that emerged in recent weeks that some exports would go to some Covax countries to then be redirected to rich countries”.

AstraZeneca, Catalent and the Italian government did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

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