BRUSSELS — A stockpile of 29 million doses of AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 vaccine that have been discovered languishing in a facility in Italy turned the brand new flash level on Wednesday in the battle between the pharmaceutical firm and the European Union, because the bloc ready to unveil stringent export restrictions primarily meant to cease drugmakers from sending doses overseas.
The Italian authorities discovered the vaccines in a website go to, European Union officers mentioned, at a manufacturing facility close to Rome that’s contracted to fill and end Covid-19 vaccine vials for AstraZeneca.
The Italian authorities went to the location after receiving an alert from the European Commission, which discovered a discrepancy between what the corporate mentioned it was producing in European Union amenities, and what the amenities themselves have been reporting.
The presence of so many doses raised suspicions that the pharmaceutical firm was looking for a strategy to export them to Britain or elsewhere, one thing the bloc has demanded that AstraZeneca cease doing till the corporate fulfills its guarantees for deliveries.
The European Union was meant to obtain greater than 100 million vaccine doses from AstraZeneca in the primary quarter of this yr, however has obtained solely 16.6 million. The provide scarcity has helped to derail vaccination efforts throughout the 27 member international locations and contributed to embarrassingly gradual inoculation charges on the continent.
What has most irked the European Union is that AstraZeneca has been persistently delivering on its contract with Britain whereas letting the bloc take the brunt of its manufacturing failures which have diminished provides. AstraZeneca has denied it has violated its E.U. contract. The bloc took step one final week to litigate the problem by activating an amicable dispute mechanism with AstraZeneca, however there isn’t any indication both occasion intends to take it to court docket.
The bloc tried to drive AstraZeneca to ship extra doses by introducing a system of export authorizations on Feb. 1, however just one AstraZeneca cargo, a small batch headed to Australia, ha been blocked since that got here into drive.
On Wednesday, the European Union launched a stricter export-control plan that goals to crack down on exports, because the bloc fears AstraZeneca deliveries can even disappoint in the second quarter because the bloc confronts a 3rd wave of infections and prolonged lockdowns.
E.U. officers mentioned there was no proof that the stockpile in Italy, first reported by the Italian daily La Stampa, was certain for Britain. They mentioned the corporate, when confronted in regards to the doses, mentioned that 16 million doses have been certain for the E.U. market and 13 million to international locations below the Covax initiative that goals to get doses to poorer nations. Those latter exports could be exempt from E.U. controls, as they’re deemed to be of humanitarian nature.
AstraZeneca didn’t instantly reply to a request for remark.
The officers mentioned they’d requested AstraZeneca for extra details about the place the lively ingredient in the vaccine vials discovered in Italy had been manufactured — a query geared toward forcing the corporate to offer extra details about its provide chain and manufacturing capability.
For AstraZeneca, the dispute over the Italian doses was the newest in a sequence of communications blunders with well being officers on either side of the Atlantic which have soured the corporate’s relationship with a number of governments.
Some American officers discovered a couple of snag in the corporate’s scientific trials final yr from the information media. The firm’s U.S. trial was paused for practically seven weeks final fall, in half as a result of AstraZeneca was gradual to offer American regulators with proof that the vaccine had not induced a neurological sickness. (Investigators later concluded the signs weren’t linked to the vaccine.)
But analysts consider that some of AstraZeneca’s manufacturing difficulties are additionally a mirrored image of the corporate’s bold world distribution plans. It had meant to make as many as three billion doses this yr, in half by contracting its manufacturing to crops all around the world. Other vaccine makers, against this, are counting on only some amenities.
That world community of factories, analysts mentioned, had the potential to create issues in the corporate’s provide chain, although it’s also half of what has made the vaccine so vital to the worldwide vaccination effort.
Benjamin Mueller contributed reporting from London.