Vaccine factory in Italy raided after AstraZeneca falsely accused of hiding doses bound for UK
Italian authorities raided a vaccine factory amid fears that 29 million AstraZeneca jabs meant for developing countries were hidden supplies intended for the UK.
The raid meant the British-Swedish company fell victim to more vaccine disinformation after it was falsely accused of hiding the doses. The erroneous report spread like wildfire across European media as Brussels threatens the UK with an export ban on millions of AstraZeneca doses from its Halix plant in Leiden, the Netherlands.
News reports in Italy said a European Commission investigation and a raid by Italian authorities had exposed the British-bound shipment at the Catalent plant in Anagni.
But The Telegraph understands that the 29 million doses at the “fill and finish” plant in Lazio, a region that includes Rome, were due to be sent to European and developing countries under the Covax programme.
British sources said they were not expecting any shipment from Italy, while EU officials confirmed that many of the doses were destined for poorer nations.
Italian media reports said raids were carried out at the plant after an EU commissioner raised his concerns. The Italian government later said that some doses were meant for EU member Belgium.
They cited EU sources accusing AstraZeneca of plotting to supply Britain before EU countries, despite the company having fallen far short of its promised deliveries to the bloc.
After this story was published AstraZeneca said: “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 vaccine was made outside the EU and brought to the Agnani plant to be filled into vials.
“There are another 16 million doses waiting for quality control release to be dispatched to Europe.” A spokesman said, confirmed that none were destined for Britain.
It is not the first time AstraZeneca has suffered from disinformation during its prolonged row with the EU over supply shortfalls.
German news reports falsely claimed the jab was only effective in eight per cent of the over-65s and Emmanuel Macron, the French president, said in January that it was “quasi-ineffective” in the elderly before later performing a U-turn.
The UK, EU and AstraZeneca are locked in a dispute over vaccine supplies after the company delivered just 30 per cent of the doses promised in its contract for the first quarter of 2021.
Ursula von der Leyen demanded “reciprocity” from Britain after she said the EU sent it 10 million vaccines over the past six weeks, mostly from Belgium’s Pfizer plant, but the UK had exported no jabs to the bloc.
She threatened to block millions of doses claimed by Britain from AstraZeneca’s Halix plant unless Boris Johnson surrendered the UK’s first refusal on supplies from AstraZeneca’s two factories in Britain so they can begin supplying the EU.
The Telegraph understands the European Commission rejected pleas from the UK and AstraZeneca for trilateral talks on resolving the stand-off. Brussels blamed legal action it has started against AstraZeneca for refusing the negotiations.
Brussels will push ahead with plans to block shipments of coronavirus vaccines to the UK and launch new rules targeting countries with high vaccination rates and low exports of jabs. The legislation will be discussed by EU leaders at their Thursday summit.
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