Australia orders EU to rethink bombshell AstraZeneca vaccine blockade – furious backlash

Health minister Greg Hunt said the European Commission should reconsider allowing Italy to block the delivery of Covid jabs to Australia. Rome successfully used the EU’s vaccine export ban to stop AstraZeneca sending the doses abroad. It complained the Anglo-Swedish pharmaceutical giant had not done enough to deliver jabs to EU member states.

Mr Hunt told reporters in Melbourne: “Australia has raised the issue with the European Commission through multiple channels, and in particular we have asked the European Commission to review this decision.”

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said he could understand Italy’s reasoning for the blockade.

He said: “In Italy, people are dying at the rate of 300 a day. And so I can certainly understand the high level of anxiety that would exist in Italy and in many countries across Europe.”

Australia insists the EU’s export ban will not heavily impact its mass vaccination programme.

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The country has already received some 300,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine, which is expected to last until local production ramps up later this month.

It began its rollout of jabs two weeks ago, using Pfizer’s Covid jab to vaccinate frontline healthcare workers and senior citizens.

Australia has ordered 53.8 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine and a local pharmaceutical firm has secured the rights to manufacture 50 million doses in the country.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen last week warned that UK-based firm could be hit by the bloc’s export ban.

Brussels has been engaged in a furious row with AstraZeneca, the maker of the Oxford-produced jab, after it slashed the number of doses it would send to EU states.

After a recent EU leaders summit, she said: “We want to see who is exporting where and I was very clear from the very start that is not directed against any kind of country but is focused on the question: does the company that is exporting a vaccine produced in Europe honour the contract in the European Union?

“If we look at the pattern the vast majority of exports is done by BioNTech/Pfizer of 95 percent approximately. The rest by Moderna. Both of them are honouring their contract so that is fine with us. We are in discussions with AstraZeneca where there is room for improvement where fulfilment of the contract is concerned, so here we have a very close eye on what is going on.”

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At the gathering, Italian prime minister Mario Draghi was vocal in his support for the bloc finally triggering its export ban.

Under the EU’s scheme, manufacturers in Europe must secure approvals from health authorities before shipping their jabs abroad.

While Italy has been blocking the export of AstraZeneca jabs abroad, it has struggled to administer the doses it has received from the firm.

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According to the latest EU data, Rome has been delivered 1.5 million doses of the Oxford-produced vaccine.

But its health officials have only administered 322,000 of these as part of the country’s mass vaccination programme.

Some sources suggest the hold-up is because regional vaccination centres have been slow to rollout the jab.

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