Italian police found millions of unreported doses of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine during a factory raid — sparking fears that the shots were hidden amid a distribution spat between the European Union and the UK, according to reports Wednesday.
Up to 29 million doses of the vaccine — nearly double the amount the European Union has received from the drug company so far — was discovered at a pharmaceutical plant in Anagni over the weekend, the Italian newspaper La Stampa reported.
The jabs were initially bound for the UK then later blocked by Italy after new rules on vaccine exports were introduced last month, EU sources told the paper.
But Italy was unaware of the vaccines until EU internal market commissioner Thierry Breton launched an investigation into the their destination — then tipped off Italian cops about the plant, according to the paper.
A health worker holds a vial of the AstraZeneca vaccine for COVID-19.Fabio Ferrari/LaPresse via AP
“On Saturday, the European Commission asked the prime minister to verify some batches of vaccine at a production plant at Anagni. The prime minister informed the health minister, who ordered an inspection between Saturday and Sunday, carried out by the [Italian authorities],” an official told The Independent. “The batches that were inspected were destined for Belgium.”
Belgium, which is part of the European Union, is locked in heated negotiations with the UK over a vaccine distribution plan, authorities said.
The jabs may have been manufactured at the Halix plant in the Netherlands, which is still awaiting approval by the European Medicines Agency, Italian media reports said.
Italy’s ministry of health said it was investigating the factory incident.
AstraZeneca said that most of the 29 million doses at the plant were intended for EU countries, and the rest were for poor countries under the World Health Organization’s COVAX plan.
“There are no exports currently planned other than to COVAX countries. There are 13 million doses of vaccine waiting for quality control release to be dispatched to COVAX,” the company told The Independent.
The rest of the 16 million doses will be shipped to Europe this month and in April, after quality control approval, the firm said.
The raid comes after AstraZeneca has come under fire from the European Commission over missed delivery targets in recent weeks.
A view of Catalent’s Anagni facility where 29 million unreported COVID-19 vaccine doses were discovered.Franco Origlia/Getty Images
The vaccine has been authorized in more than 50 countries, but has not yet been given the green light in the US.