CANBERRA / TOKYO / BRUSSELS (Reuters) – Australia has asked the European Commission to review its decision to block shipments of the COVID-19 vaccine from AstraZeneca, as countries importing EU-made gunfire are concerned about the potential impact on supplies.
EU executives supported Italy’s decision to block the delivery of 250,000 doses of AstraZeneca vaccine to Australia, European officials said, in the first refusal of an export request since a mechanism to monitor vaccine flows was established in late January.
The move is a reaction to AstraZeneca’s delay in sending vaccines to the EU. The company said it could only supply about 40 million doses by the end of this month compared to the 90 million estimated in its contract.
An official said the Anglo-Swedish company initially asked Rome to deliver more doses to Australia, but then cut its demand to 250,000 following Italy’s first refusal, in which some of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccines were bottled.
“Australia has raised this issue with the European Commission through various channels, and in particular we have asked the European Commission to review this decision,” Australian Health Minister Greg Hunt told reporters in Melbourne.
A European Commission spokesman said on Friday that EU executives had not received a specific request from the Australian health minister about the vaccine block.
Hunt said Australia, which started the inoculation program two weeks ago, has received 300,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine, which will last until local vaccine production increases. He added that the missing dose would not affect the rollout of Australia’s inoculation program.
When asked about the EU export ban, Japanese vaccine minister Taro Kono said: “We ask the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to thoroughly investigate. We want to work with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to secure a vaccine for Japan. “
AstraZeneca did not reply to a request for comment.
Despite the decision to block shipments to Australia, the EU has authorized all export requests from the debut scheme January 30 to March 1, totaling 174 requests for millions of shots to 29 countries, including Australia, Japan, Britain, the United Arab Emirates and Canada, the spokesperson said. talk to the European Union Commission.
Nearly all vaccines exported from the EU since late January have been manufactured by Pfizer and BioNTech, European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen said last week, with much smaller quantities exported by Moderna and AstraZeneca.
The EU set up a mechanism to monitor vaccine exports after drug makers announced a suspension of their supply to the 27-nation block. It now plans to extend the scheme to the end of June after it ends on March 31, EU officials told Reuters.
When asked about Italy’s move, French Health Minister Olivier Veran said Paris could do the same, even though it is not currently producing a vaccine for COVID-19.
German Health Minister Jens Spahn said drug manufacturers must honor contracts for vaccine supply to Europe, but said Germany had no reason to stop sending domestically produced injections to other countries.
In seeking European Commission intervention, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said he could understand the reasons for Italy’s objections.
“In Italy people are dying at a rate of 300 per day. So I can definitely understand the high level of anxiety that will be in Italy and in many countries across Europe, “Morrison told reporters in Sydney.
The Italian move comes just days after Prime Minister Mario Draghi, who took office last month, told fellow EU leaders the bloc needs to speed up vaccinations and crack down on pharmaceutical companies that fail to meet promised supplies.
EU countries started injections in late December, but moving at a much slower pace than other wealthy nations, including former members of the UK and the United States. Officials blamed the slow progress partly on supply problems with producers.
Reporting by Colin Packham in Canberra, Rocky Swift and Kiyoshi Takenaka in Tokyo, Sabine Siebold in Brussels; written by Colin Packham and Francesco Guarascio; Edited by Jane Wardell, Kenneth Maxwell and Nick Macfie
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