vThe unease and mistrust in the European Union with the Anglo-Swedish pharmaceutical AstraZeneca continues to grow unstoppably.
The discovery of 29 million doses of its vaccine against covid19 in a plant of the American multinational Catalent in Anagni, near Rome, this past weekend has unleashed a new political storm due to the lack of transparency with which the pharmaceutical company acts , which last year signed a contract for the distribution among the Twenty-seven of 300 million doses – plus a possible additional 100 million – but which is still far from being fulfilled.
The shipment surfaced during an inspection carried out this past Saturday and Sunday by the police, following the request of the industrial commissioner, Thierry Breton , to the Italian Prime Minister, Mario Draghi , to verify some batches of antidotes located in this plant and that represent almost the double those supplied by the company between January and March.
The origin of the investigation, as revealed this Wednesday by the Italian newspaper La Stampa , is in a visit by Breton to the factory of the company Halix in the Netherlands, which also uses the pharmaceutical AstraZeneca in its production chain to manufacture the substance of the vaccine.
This factory is still waiting to obtain authorization from the European Medicines Agency (EMA), because the company has not provided all the necessary documentation, so its production cannot be destined for the Twenty-seven, but it can be destined for the United Kingdom which It has already received remittances from the plant in recent months.
It was after this visit that Brussels requested the intervention of Italy, the only country that has so far used the mechanism to ban vaccine exports to prevent the departure of 250,000 doses of AstraZeneca to Australia.
Europe and the Covax countries
Although according to the aforementioned newspaper the destination of part of the vaccines was the United Kingdom, Italian Government sources have explained that they were destined for a logistics center in Belgium, to be distributed between Europe and the countries of the Covax program, which are countries with low income and that they would have very difficult access to immunization without international support.
The same explanation given by the company that, in a statement, has insisted that the only expected exports are to the Covax countries, rejecting that the shipment was to the United Kingdom and that London has also denied.
Specifically, according to the company’s version, of the 29 million doses found in Italy, 13 million are waiting to pass quality control before being sent to low-income countries. “This vaccine – they explain – was manufactured outside the EU and was brought to the Anagni plant to be filled in the vials,” they maintain.
As for the remaining 16 million, they would also be waiting for quality control and the destination would be Europe. “About 10 million will be delivered to EU countries during the last week of March and the rest in April when they receive approval to be delivered after quality control,” they add, emphasizing the complexity of the manufacturing process and underlining that it does not it is a vaccine reserve.
Brussels demands information
The European Commission has not confirmed the exact origin of the lots discovered, although suspicions suggest that at least a part would come from the Halix plant, nor the destination of the antidotes, but it has recalled that if they are for export, authorization must be requested. and has reproached the laboratory for its lack of transparency about how many doses they have produced, where and for whom.
“Given that they are not complying with their commitments under the advance purchase agreements with the EU, we consider that it is of utmost importance that they guarantee full transparency,” sources from the Community Executive have indicated.
The problem, according to the vice president of the European Commission, Valdis Dombrovskis , is that the multinational is still a long way from fulfilling its contractual commitments with the EU. “It should deliver 120 million in this first quarter.
They have promised that 30 million will enter but to this day they are not even close to that figure, ”he made ugly during the presentation of the proposal to further toughen the export of vaccines. Specifically, according to data from the European Center for Disease Control and Prevention , the Anglo-Swedish company has so far distributed less than 18 million doses among the 27 .
Although the European Commission relies on the vaccines from BioNTech / Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson , the other three authorized by the EMA, to immunize 70% of the European adult population this summer, AstraZeneca’s delays have slowed the vaccination campaign during this first quarter and have greatly heated tempers among the Member States.
“AstraZeneca has been a problem for its customers” and “production commitments have been clearly breached,” criticize European diplomatic sources.