BRUSSELS — A stockpile of 29 million doses of AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 vaccine that were found languishing in a facility in Italy became the new flash point on Wednesday in the conflict between the pharmaceutical company and the European Union, as the bloc prepared to unveil stringent export restrictions primarily meant to stop drugmakers from sending doses abroad.
The Italian authorities found the vaccines in a site visit, European Union officials said, at a factory near Rome that is contracted to fill and finish Covid-19 vaccine vials for AstraZeneca.
The Italian authorities went to the site after receiving an alert from the European Commission, which found a discrepancy between what the company said it was producing in European Union facilities, and what the facilities themselves were reporting.
The presence of so many doses raised suspicions that the pharmaceutical company was trying to find a way to export them to Britain or elsewhere, something the bloc has demanded that AstraZeneca stop doing until the company fulfills its promises for deliveries.
The European Union was meant to receive more than 100 million vaccine doses from AstraZeneca in the first quarter of this year, but has received only 16.6 million. The supply shortage has helped to derail vaccination efforts across the 27 member countries and contributed to embarrassingly slow inoculation rates on the continent.
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