CANBERRA, March 5 (Reuters) – The Australian government on Friday expressed frustration over Italy’s decision to block deliveries of the COVID-19 vaccine from AstraZeneca, but stressed it would not affect the launch of Australia’s inoculation program.
Italy, supported by the European Commission, blocked plans to export around 250,000 doses of AstraZeneca’s vaccine after drug manufacturers failed to meet EU contractual commitments.
“The world is in uncharted territory at the moment, it’s no surprise that some countries will tear up the rule book,” Australian Finance Minister Simon Birmingham told Sky News.
“This shows how well Australia continues to do compared to the desperation of other countries.”
Health Minister Greg Hunt said Australia had received 300,000 doses of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine, which will last until local vaccine production increases.
“This is a single shipment from a country,” Hunt said in an emailed statement. “This shipment is not factored into our distribution plans for the coming weeks.”
AstraZeneca did not immediately reply to a request for comment.
Australia started an inoculation program two weeks ago, vaccinating frontline health staff and the elderly with Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine despite limited doses of the vaccine amid tight global supplies.
Officials on Friday administered the first AstraZeneca vaccine to a doctor in the state of South Australia.
Australia has ordered 53.8 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine, which was developed in conjunction with the University of Oxford. Local pharmaceutical company CSL Ltd has secured the rights to produce 50 million of these doses in Australia.
The doses will form the backbone of Australia’s inoculation program, which is expected to be completed in October.
Australia is under less pressure than many other countries, recording just under 29,000 cases of COVID-19 and 909 deaths. Lower infection and death counts have been aided by tight lockdowns, rapid tracking systems and border closings. (Reporting by Colin Packham; editing by Jane Wardell)