Italian authorities have located in a warehouse in Italy some 29 million doses of the vaccine developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford University, allegedly prepared for export to the United Kingdom, according to the newspaper ‘La Stampa’. The doses were found in a plant of the company Catalent, near Rome, after a warning from the European Commission. At least part of this material would have been produced in the Netherlands by the firm Halix, an AstraZeneca subcontractor with the capacity to generate 5 million doses per month.

The drugs located in Italy are almost twice as many as those received so far by the EU from the Anglo-Swedish pharmaceutical company and, according to ‘La Stampa’, their final destination is the United Kingdom, which would have bought them to guarantee a second dose to almost 15 million people.

The news comes precisely on the day when the Community Executive adopts a modification of the control mechanism created to prevent the export of vaccines abroad by manufacturers who are not fulfilling their commitments to sell to EU countries.

Among the expected changes is that Brussels will announce after the midday meeting of the College of Commissioners that the mechanism will be made more flexible to act also on shipments that affect the production of compliant companies but whose destination are countries that do not export to the EU.

So far, this mechanism has only been used to stop the departure of vaccines once in the month and a half that it has been in place and that was to block a consignment of AstraZeneca also prepared for shipment from Italy, but destined for Australia.

The fiasco caused by AstraZeneca’s constant failures to meet its delivery commitments to EU partners while supplying the UK without delay with products produced in European plants has raised the tension between Brussels and London, to the point that the head of the EU executive, Ursula von der Leyen, threatened Boris Johnson’s government a week ago with a veto on vaccine exports to the UK.

Von der Leyen will take this proposal on Thursday to the heads of state and government of the EU who will meet by videoconference to analyze the problems to advance in the vaccination of Europeans at the planned pace.

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