AstraZeneca: Expert discusses contract with the UK and EU
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Brussels officials have nonetheless hit out at the drugmakers, with one demanding evidence to stack up the claims they were not hoarding jabs for the UK. Italian daily La Stampa accused AstraZeneca on Wednesday of hiding the vaccine doses in a bid to send them to the UK instead of distributing them across the EU.
The Anglo-Swedish producers denied the accusation, claiming the vials were meant for EU member states and Covax.
An Italian Government official later confirmed the vials were meant to be sent to Belgium.
The UK also said it was not expecting any delivery of AstraZeneca jabs from Italy.
But the story caused angsts across EU figures with some still doubting the veracity of AstraZeneca’s explanation for the jabs.
The Anagni plant is in charge of bottling 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 – to be shipped to COVAX countries.
A spokesperson for the company said: “We would like to clarify some inaccurate statements relating to vaccine doses at the Anagni plant.
“There are no exports currently planned other than to COVAX countries.
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“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 Agnani plant to be filled into vials.
“The EU fully supports supplying low and middle-income countries through the COVAX facility.
“There are another 16m doses waiting for quality control release to be dispatched to Europe. Close to 10m doses will be delivered to EU countries during the last week of March, the balance in April as the doses are approved for release after quality control.
“It is incorrect to describe this as a stockpile. The process of manufacturing vaccines is very complex and time-consuming. In particular, vaccine doses must wait for quality control clearance after the filling of vials is completed.”
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But EU officials speaking to Politico are adamant the pharmaceutical company’s words are not to be trusted.
One EU official said: “Between what’s certainly produced in Europe and what’s possibly delivered to Europe, there’s a delta.
“We don’t know where it goes.”
Another senior EU official commented that any decision to stockpile vaccines would be indefensible, “given the pandemic situation.”
They said: “I think all companies that we have contracted with are responsible companies that are looking at a long-term European market, and I assume that they will act very responsibly with all their decisions.”
And another EU official even went as far as accusing AstraZeneca of counting on current vaccine export controls to lapse so that it could send the vials abroad, perhaps to the UK.
They said: “Everything that AstraZeneca says, it must be fact-based.
“For now, it is only word-based.”
Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi has been urged to keep AstraZeneca vials found by the police near Rome and meant for Belgium, as EU officials continue to cast doubts on the transparency of the Oxford jab producers.
The Italian leader is facing pressures to keep the 29million vaccine doses found by Italian military police in Anagni.
Matteo Salvini is calling on Mr Draghi to keep the vaccines using the EU’s mechanism to control vaccine exports.
The former deputy prime minister said: “AstraZeneca had promised Italy more than 25 million doses, it provided five.
“Did they find 29 million doses? Well, we must stop them here until the contract is fulfilled.
“Italy is ready to vaccinate and speed ahead, we cannot wait for EU bureaucracy.”
He added: “On vaccines, the European Union has shown a dramatic failure.
“As Italian citizens, I reiterated this to President Draghi today, we expect someone to pay.
“We must demand from the EU that Italy is respected, not only for vaccines.
“We no longer want to hear about the Bolkestein directive, Nutriscore, health cuts and the stability pact.”
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