EU tells officials sent to ‘spot check’ AstraZeneca plant in Belgium in supply row

28 January 2021, 12:25

Prime Minister Boris Johnson is shown the distribution operation for sending the Oxford/Astrazeneca coronavirus vaccines
Prime Minister Boris Johnson is shown the distribution operation for sending the Oxford/Astrazeneca coronavirus vaccines. Picture: PA

By Asher McShane

The EU has ordered health officials to carry out an inspection of an Astrazeneca vaccine production line in Belgium to find out whether delays in the deliveries of jabs are due to production issues.

Health authorities in Belgium carried out the sudden inspection at the request of the European Commission amid the bitter dispute between the bloc over supplies of the vaccine.

Last night EU officials threatened Britain will "suffer" due to the distribution of the Oxford/AstraZeneca jab. The UK ordered doses of the vaccine three months before the EU.

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German MEP Peter Liese warned of a trade war, saying last night: "We see that Europe is not treated well, not from the United States and not from the UK, and then we have to show our weapons.

"Europe was always open. We wanted cooperation. Europe was the initiator of COVAX, but in the meantime, the UK... did the treaty 'UK first'.

"So we need to react to this. If it's the UK first and if it's [the] US first, then we need to tell other companies in the world, if we treat the Europeans as second class, you will suffer for this."

The Novasep's factory in the town of Seneffe is part of the European production chain for the Oxford-AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine.

AstraZeneca said last week that it planned to cut initial deliveries in the EU to 31 million doses from the 80 million it had planned due to reduced yields from its manufacturing plants in Europe.

The EU claimed on Wednesday that it will receive even less than that - just one quarter of the doses that member nations were supposed to get during January-March 2021.

According to the EU, the Belgian factory is one of four AstraZeneca sites included in the contract sealed by the European Commission and the company to produce vaccines for the EU market.

"The Novasep teams worked hard to meet its obligations to AstraZeneca with unprecedented speed and commitment," Novasep said in a statement.

"Manufacturing the Covid-19 vaccine is a pioneering process in terms of scale, complexity and quantity. We have worked closely with AstraZeneca and conducted regular and coordinated reviews of the production processes to ensure the active drug substance was delivered on time and met the highest standards for quality and stability."

France Dammel, a spokesperson for Belgium's health minister, said experts from the federal medicine agency inspected the Novasep site. They will now work with Dutch, Italian and Spanish experts before delivering a report in the coming days.

Stella Kyriakides, the European Commissioner for health and food safety, said AstraZeneca should provide vaccines from its UK facilities if it is unable to meet commitments from factories in the EU.

Last night Ms Kyriakides criticised the "continued lack of clarity on the delivery schedule" and urged AstraZeneca to come up with a clear plan for a quick delivery of the doses reserved by the EU for the first quarter.

A spokesman for AstraZeneca said after the meeting that the company has "committed to even closer coordination."

The EU, which has 450 million people, has signed deals for six different vaccines, but so far regulators have only authorised the use of two, one made by Pfizer and another by Moderna.

The EU's drug regulator is expected to approve the AstraZeneca vaccine on Friday.