Italian authorities have discovered 29 million doses of Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine that had been stocked at a manufacturing site in the country, reported La Stampa on Wednesday.
According to the newspaper, the doses likely come from AstraZeneca’s Halix plant in the Netherlands, which hasn’t yet been approved for EU production.
La Stampa cites EU sources who say that those doses were originally destined to the U.K. But exports stopped after the bloc introduced a mechanism to restrict exports on vaccines.
At a parliamentary committee meeting on Tuesday, the director general of the Commission’s health and food safety department, Sandra Gallina, said that she wasn’t aware of any Oxford/AstraZeneca doses leaving the bloc after one export request for Australia was denied.
La Stampa reports that AstraZeneca hadn’t alerted EU authorities to the doses, which were being stored in a fill-finish site run by Catalent in the town of Agnani. But following an inspection of the Halix plant, Internal Market Commissioner Thierry Breton took an interest in where the doses being manufactured at Dutch the site were going, leading him to alert Italian authorities to look into the matter.
This discovery comes as AstraZeneca comes under harsh criticism from the European Commission over shortfalls of vaccine deliveries, having widely missed its original delivery targets set in the EU’s advance purchase agreement. Its most recent promise is to deliver in the first quarter of the year 30 million doses — nearly equal to the amount found at the Catalent site.
The find also coincides with the European Commission’s move to introduce new rules that could slash EU vaccine exports for six weeks. The rules target places like the U.K. and U.S. — countries that are either receiving EU-made doses but not shipping back their own shots, or that have vaccinated more of their population than the EU. The proposal is supposed to be unveiled Wednesday ahead of a virtual summit of EU leaders on Thursday and Friday.
David M. Herszenhorn and Hans von der Burchard contributed reporting.