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Belgium inspects vaccine plant at EU request

Belgian health officials inspected a plant producing AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 vaccine Thursday, amid a dispute with the European Commission over delayed deliveries.

A spokeswoman for Belgium’s Federal Agency for Medicines and Health Products (AFMHPS) said the visit to the site in Seneffe was at the request of the European Commission.

“We are now examining documents and data,” Ann Eeckhout told AFP.

A European Commission spokesman told AFP that “the results of the inspection will be analysed with experts from other Member States and will be shared with the European Commission”.

The plant is at the centre of a fierce row between the European Commission and Anglo-Swedish group AstraZeneca over a delay in the supply of millions of doses of coronavirus vaccine to EU governments.

The company has said production issues have slowed promised deliveries meant to be in place once approval is granted for use in the EU, expected on Friday.

An official from the office of Belgian Health Minister Frank Vandenbroucke said the probe was to see if the delay “is indeed due to a production problem at the Belgian site”.

“As the procedure in such cases requires, the inspection is carried out in collaboration with other countries in order to ensure transparency and objectivity,” the official said, referring to “Dutch, Italian and Spanish experts”.

The Seneffe site produces vaccines under licence to AstraZeneca. It is operated by US firm ThermoFisher, which took over after buying it from French former owner NovaSep on January 15.

Despite the EU delivery shortfall, AstraZeneca has continued to supply the UK government under a separate contract while warning that “glitches” in its EU plants were behind the delays in Europe.

But the European Commission has branded the excuses “unacceptable” and has demanded transparency over its shipments of doses out of EU plants.

Brussels says its contract with AstraZeneca provided that the British plants would be part of the European supply chain and insists that delivery volumes be respected.