EU demands answers after 29 million doses of vaccine destined for UK found in Italy

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The revelation that the Italian authorities found a total of 29 million doses of AstraZeneca vaccine in a town near Rome that the manufacturer had presumably wanted to deliver to the United Kingdom has sparked a major scandal in Brussels.

According to daily La Stampa, a raid over the weekend found the “loot”, with the information since also confirmed by the European Commission. The 29 million doses are almost double the total that AstraZeneca has delivered to EU countries so far.

The tension between the British-Swedish company and the Union has grown tremendously, as the former has so far delivered only a fraction of the promised amount of vaccine to the bloc, while supplying the British at a much faster rate of vaccination, partly on the mainland. Consequently, on Wednesday, the EU Commission tightened its export control mechanism in place since the end of January. The European Commission has taken note of the outcome of the raid by the Italian authorities, but only said on Wednesday that AstraZeneca needed to inquire about the doses found in Anagni, Italy.

And according to some sources in Brussels, the EU had reported the company to the Italian authorities, saying it could be assumed that the vaccine was being smuggled out from the EU.

AstraZeneca, however, denied the allegations in a recent statement. The company said in a statement that no exports are currently planned and no “stockpiling” is taking place at the Anagni plant, but it is a consignment of vaccines awaiting quality control or destined for poorer countries through Covax cooperation. According to the company, 13 million of the 29 million doses found here would have gone into the Covax system and another 16 million directly into the EU.

As the vaccination campaign continues in the EU, every dose matters. This will also be discussed by EU heads of state and government at their online summit starting today, where the AstraZeneca scandal, the issue of vaccine passports and the controversial mechanism for distributing vaccines will also be discussed.

As a result of the meeting, the European Parliament also debated the issue on Wednesday, where the dramatic public health situation and the battle between Brussels and the Swedish-British company also played a major role.

According to Maroš Šefčovič, Vice-President of the Commission for Inter-institutional Relations and Planning, “there are some problems” with EU vaccine procurement, but the Commission wants to maintain its target of vaccinating 70 percent of the EU’s adult population by the end of the summer. The commissioner is also optimistic about the vaccine passports announced last week and says these could be ready by June.

Manfred Weber also criticized the Commission on the AstraZeneca exports, saying the company should provide an explanation how it exported more vaccines outside the EU than what was due for Spain, for example.

“The world is a cold place, we in the EU can’t be naive either,” Weber said. Social Democrat MEPs said the British producer was simply laughing at the EU and called for the strictest possible export controls.

Title image: Vials of the AstraZeneca vaccine are pictured during vaccinations at the Fondazione Martino Zanchi nursing home, in Alzano Lombardo, northern Italy, Monday, March 22, 2021. (AP Photo/Luca Bruno)

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