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Belgian authorities inspect AstraZeneca pharmacies amid EU vaccine dispute

Belgian authorities inspect AstraZeneca pharmacies amid EU vaccine dispute
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Belgian health authorities on Thursday said they inspected an AstraZeneca pharmaceutical factory upon request from the European Commission, the latest development in the ongoing feud over delays in the delivery of coronavirus vaccines.

According to The Associated Press, the Belgian government was asked to inspect the factory to determine whether the delays in the delivery of AstraZeneca’s vaccine are actually a result of production issues at its manufacturing plants in Europe, as the company has claimed.

The chemical manufacturer Novasep has a factory in the Belgian town of Seneffe that has reportedly been used in the production of AstraZeneca's coronavirus vaccine, which was developed in coordination with Oxford University.

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The inspections come as EU officials face pressure to accelerate its vaccine rollout to keep up with other countries like the U.K. and Israel, which have been able to distribute the vaccine at much higher rates.

AstraZeneca agreed to initially give the EU 80 million doses of the coronavirus vaccine, but cut it back to 31 million doses, citing reduced yields from its European manufacturing plants.

The EU on Wednesday claimed that it received even less than that amount and just one quarter of the doses originally agreed upon for the bloc’s 27 member states from January to March.

AstraZeneca on Wednesday denied the claim that it was failing to honor its commitments to the EU, with AstraZeneca Chief Executive Pascal Soriot saying, “Our contract is not a contractual commitment, it’s a best effort.”

“Basically, we said we’re going to try our best, but we can’t guarantee we’re going to succeed. In fact, getting there, we are a little bit delayed,” Soriot added.

The AP reported that the EU has committed to buying a total of 300 million AstraZeneca doses with the possibility of 100 million extra shots.

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European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen on Tuesday gave a warning to pharmaceutical companies that developed coronavirus vaccines with the help of EU aid, saying at the World Economic Forum’s virtual event in Switzerland that the companies “must deliver” and “honor their obligations.”

According to the AP, the EU invested about 2.7 billion euros, roughly $3.3 billion, in companies researching and developing COVID-19 vaccines.

Despite the ongoing dispute with AstraZeneca, Stefan de Keersmaecker, the European Commission’s health policy spokesman, said that authorities believe they will still be able to meet their goal of vaccinating at least 80 percent of EU citizens over the age of 80 by March.

“It is an ambitious target, but we believe it is a realistic one,” he said, according to the AP, noting the readiness of doses provided by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna.

The Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines are currently the only coronavirus inoculations to be approved for use in the EU, though AstraZeneca is expected to be reviewed by regulators on Friday.