Australia is seeking assurances from the European Commission that shipments of vaccines are not blocked again after Italy banned a large export of the AstraZeneca coronavirus shots
“The world is in uncharted territory at present, it’s unsurprising that some countries would tear up the rule book,” finance minister Simon Birmingham told Sky News Australia on Friday.
Birmingham ackhnowledged, however, that Australia received 300,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine last week, and “that will see our current distribution plan work.”
Australia’s immunization program began last month and the government expects the vaccine will be made available to anyone who wants it by October. The country has secured 53.8 million doses of the vaccine made by AstraZeneca and Oxford University, 50 million of which will be made in Australia in a partnership with Melbourne-based biopharmaceutical company CSL.
“We are obviously disappointed and frustrated by this decision,” Birmingham said. “It is very much a reminder of the desperation that exists in other parts of the world, compared with the very good position we found ourselves in here in Australia.”
According to Australian media, Health Minister Greg Hunt has asked the European Commission to review the Italian decision.
The shipment ban was the latest development in the dispute between the EU and AstraZeneca over delays in deliveries.
The EU has been specifically angry with AstraZeneca because it is delivering far fewer doses to the bloc than it had promised. Of the initial order for 80 million doses to the EU in the first quarter, the company will be struggling to deliver half that quantity.
The EU thought it had made excellent preparations for the rollout of vaccines. With its 450 million people, the EU has signed deals for six different vaccines. In total, it has ordered up to 400 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine and sealed agreements with other companies for more than 2 billion shots.
But only 33 million doses have been given so far, and only 11 million Europeans have been fully vaccinated. Despite the current difficulties, the EU’s goal remains to vaccinate 70% of the adult population in the bloc by the end of summer.
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