Italy blocks export of COVID-19 vaccines to Australia

Italy blocks export of COVID-19 vaccines to Australia

The European Commission and Italy have blocked a shipment of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine destined for Australia after the pharmaceutical company did not fulfil its European Union contract commitments, sources said on Thursday.

The Australian Covid-19 rollout program should be delayed. Italy has blocked a shipment of 250,000 doses of AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccines going to Australia the first time a new EU export control mechanism has been used.

The government of Mario Draghi, Italy’s newly appointed prime minister, asked Brussels for the export to be blocked last Friday.

The sources said AstraZeneca had reportedly requested authorization from the Italian government to export some 250,000 doses from its Anagni plant, close to Rome. The site is owned by US group Catalent.

Italy reportedly refused and the European Commission backed its decision. The ban is believed to be the first time that the EU implemented its COVID-19 vaccine exports ban.

The European Commission has now given its approval to the request.

The shipment contained more than 250,000 doses of AstraZeneca has been stopped, reported by Italian news agency ANSA.

Brussels introduced the export control mechanism in January amid a row with AstraZeneca after the pharmaceutical firm said it be delivering fewer jabs to the EU than planned. The idea was to stop vaccines made in the EU from leaving the bloc if needs be.

Amid criticism of the mechanism, Brussels insisted it had prior to Italy’s request – approved all export requests.

The EU bloc issued an export control system a month ago amid shortages of vaccine doses in the early stages of its inoculation campaign. The EU hoped the mechanism ensures drug manufacturers respect their contractual obligations to the bloc before commercial exports can be approved.

Italy blocks export of COVID-19 vaccines to Australia

Many countries around the world, like Canada, Japan and Australia, depend upon European plants to procure vaccines for their citizens.

Since taking office, Draghi has voiced his concern around the sluggish vaccine roll-out.

During last week’s meeting of European leaders, he urged his colleagues and the European Commission to go faster and expressed his preference to keep EU-made vaccines inside the European bloc.

Just two weeks ago, the European External Action Services (EEAS) released a statement celebrating the arrival of the first EU-made doses in Australia.

More than 142,000 doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine have arrived at Sydney airport from the European Union in a major milestone in Australia’s response to the pandemic, the statement said.

Last Sunday, another shipment of 300,000 AstraZeneca doses manufactured in Europe landed on Australian soil.

In total, Australia has secured 53.8 million doses of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine, with 50 million expected to be produced inside the country.

AstraZeneca has been previously suspected of sending EU-made jabs to other countries, particularly to the United Kingdom.

These suspicions led to a public row with the European Commission and, after a fractious back-and-forth, to the introduction of the exports control scheme.

Italy’s extraordinary move is set to trigger a diplomatic dispute and could exacerbate tensions and resentment in the heated vaccination race, which has put some countries on top with others lagging behind.

The World Health Organization has for months warned against the threat of vaccine nationalism, saying that “nobody is safe until everybody is safe”. However, the global scarcity of jabs has led countries to adopt exceptional measures to guarantee their citizens are inoculated first.

The manufacturer AstraZeneca cut back first-quarter projected deliveries from at least 80 million to 40 million doses, citing production difficulties. It later told EU countries it would cut deliveries by another 50% in the second quarter.

EU leaders began to suspect that vaccines produced in the bloc were being sold to countries outside the EU.

Italy blocks export of COVID-19 vaccines to Australia

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