Drug maker AstraZeneca said on Wednesday that about 29 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines, found after an inspection at an Italian plant, were due to be shipped to the EU and poorer countries through the humanitarian COVAX scheme.
The inspection at the Catalent plant of Anagni, near Rome, had been requested by the European Commission and was conducted at the weekend by Italian security forces.
An Italian government official confirmed the raid and said that the stock of vaccine doses found at the plant was supposed to be delivered to Belgium.
The news sparked concerns at a European level after the relationship between the EU and the Anglo-Swedish company was strained by substantial delays in AstraZeneca’s supplies. The firm was supposed to deliver 300 million doses to the EU by the end of June, but then slashed its target to 100 million.
Following the cut in supplies, the European Commission proposed tougher controls on COVID-19 vaccine exports and the plan should be discussed by EU leaders on Thursday.
“There are no exports currently planned other than to COVAX countries,” AstraZeneca said in a statement, referring to the vaccine stock found at the Anagni plant.
“There are 13 million 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 company added, explaining that the vaccine was made outside the EU and brought to the Anagni plant to be filled into vials.
The remaining 16 million doses are waiting for quality control release to be dispatched to Europe, AstraZeneca added.
On Wednesday, Italian Premier Mario Draghi confirmed that on average 170,000 daily vaccinations were carried out in March and that the government’s target was to increase that to half a million.
“We must ask pharmaceutical companies to fully respect their commitments on a European level,” Draghi told lawmakers in a speech.
Italy is still struggling to contain a third wave of coronavirus infections. On Wednesday, it reported 460 new coronavirus-related deaths, down from 551 the day before.
According to Health Ministry data, new infections rose to 21,267 from 18,765 the previous day.