Authorities in Italy have drawn on controversial export laws for the first time, refusing to grant a licence for 250,000 doses manufactured in the country to be exported.
Officials in Rome had informed the EU of its intention to act last week and Brussels did not object to the move.
The batch was halted because of ‘continuing shortage of vaccines in the EU and in Italy and delays in supplies from AstraZeneca to the EU and Italy,’ the Italian foreign ministry said in a statement.
Italy also argued Australia is not a high-risk country, with low case and death numbers, in stark contrast to countries overwhelmed by the pandemic.
The EU blocked a shipment of AstraZeneca vaccines from leaving Italy for Australia on Thursday, drawing on controversial export laws for the first time. Pictured: The first shipment of AstraZeneca arriving in Australia on February 28
The decision has sparked anger from commentators worldwide, with critics accusing the EU of punishing Australia due to their own management failures during the pandemic.
‘The decision by Italy and the European Union to block vaccine exports to Australia is a total disgrace,’ Matthew Lesh, the Head of Research at the conservative Adam Smith Institute,’ told News.com.au.
‘A very clear demonstration of closed, self-interested and nationalistic behaviour. The world should not tolerate this bullying.
‘Australia isn’t responsible for the European Union’s failure to secure enough doses or vaccinate across her population — Australia’s most vulnerable shouldn’t have to bear the consequences.’
Mr Lesh’s sentiments were echoed by several British commentators, including journalist Kelvin MacKenzie.
‘The EU is a disgrace,’ Mr MacKenzie tweeted.
‘Europe is short of vaccine due to its own stupidity. France and Germany don’t even believe in AZ but won’t let anybody else have it. Shockers.’
The obstruction will leave Australia short thousands of vaccines, after the move prevented the batch from departing Europe on Thursday as planned.
Victorian Deputy Chief Health Officer Allen Cheng (pictured) said the situation reinforces how ‘lucky’ Australia is to have local vaccine production
But Victorian Deputy Chief Health Officer Allen Cheng said the move demonstrates how lucky the nation is to have onshore vaccine production and he is not concerned it will disrupt Australia’s rollout program.
‘[This] just reinforces how lucky we are to have local production. It may not come in exactly when we expect it, but it is coming,’ Professor Cheng told 3AW on Thursday.
Professor Cheng said ‘we do not know’ when more doses will arrive in the country but there are some Astrazenca doses in South Australia that will start being administered today.
Australia has secured 20 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine, with around 440,000 already in the country, and 54million AstraZeneca doses from overseas and local suppliers.
Asked why the majority of the orders are still yet to reach our shores, Professor Cheng said logistics were proving difficult.
‘We have more vaccine than our capacity to deliver it at the moment,’ he said
European leaders hastily passed new laws in January which require vaccine-makers to get permission from member states if they are planning to ship jabs manufactured in their countries overseas.
The 250,000 doses will reportedly now be distributed within the EU, whose member states are lagging behind other developed nations, including the United Kingdom.
Australia has ordered 150 million vaccines – meaning it can give enough jabs to every citizen twice (pictured, a scientist with the AstraZeneca vaccine)
A woman receives the AstraZeneca vaccine in Cornwall in the UK (pictured on February 1)
Australia began its vaccine campaign last week and had intended to use jabs shipped from abroad in the early part of the roll-out, before switching to domestically-produced ones.
Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton said the first of 50 million AstraZeneca doses to be produced locally would be ready within weeks.
‘This 250,000-dose issue is not going to affect the rollout,’ he told the Nine Network on Friday.
Deputy Labor leader Richard Marles welcomed the government’s confidence the program would not be affected.
‘We are far from leading the world in terms of vaccinating our population, but it’s good news to hear from Peter this won’t stall the rollout,’ he told Nine.
Mr Dutton stressed there was no problem as he urged people to speak to their doctors to see when they could be vaccinated.
‘We need to get to herd immunity that way we can get our borders open and get back to normal life,’ he said.
The Australian Medical Association’s Chris Moy said the government’s decision to lock in local manufacturing would protect against ‘vaccine nationalism’.
‘It may have a slight delay because the first three or four million were destined to come from overseas,’ he told Nine.
Health authorities say the move will not affect the vaccine rollout. Pictured: Prime Minister Scott Morrison walks past vials of AstraZeneca vaccine during a visit to the CSL serum lab to inspect Covid-19 Immunoglobulin being produced in Parkville, Melbourne last month
The EU has been frustrated with a slow vaccine rollout and criticised AstraZeneca for a shortfall in delivering millions of doses.
The export ban coincides with the first AstraZeneca jabs to be being administered in Australia on Friday after a shipment arrived on Sunday.
Frontline health workers at the Murray Bridge Hospital, east of Adelaide, will be the first to get the new jab, which is initially being rolled out to South Australia and Western Australia.
Vaccines will be a key topic for Prime Minister Scott Morrison and his state and territory counterparts at Friday’s national cabinet meeting.
The leaders will also be briefed on the best way to respond to new coronavirus strains which have emerged around the world.
Prime Minister and Cabinet secretary Phil Gaetjens’ work with the states on improving consistency across the nation will be discussed.
The report has looked at coordinated approaches on health and the economy including restrictions.
National cabinet will also discuss international arrival caps, which have been flagged for change on April 30.
Australia’s slow jabs roll-out
Australia has only just begun to roll-out Covid-19 jabs, with the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine approved for use from tomorrow.
The country received a delivery of 142,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine on February 15, but the AstraZeneca jab is to be the predominant vaccine for Australians.
Just 0.2 per 100 people have received a vaccine dose, compared to 31.82 in Britain, 24.33 in the U.S. and 8.71 in Europe.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said 3.8 million doses of the AstraZeneca jab arrived in Sydney on Sunday, with a 300,000 batch tasted and approved for use on frontline medics from Friday.
Mr Morrison said that a further 50 million doses of the AstraZeneca jab will be made domestically in Melbourne to avoid relying on other countries and supply problems.
The doses will be manufactured in monthly batches.
The 53.8 million doses are enough to provide two doses to every person in the country.