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)
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
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Joe Biden has asked senior officials to come to the US-Mexico border and brief him on the government’s response to the influx of unaccompanied minors and steps taken to ensure their safety and their care, a White House spokesperson said Thursday. Biden’s administration faces criticism from Democrats and activists who say unaccompanied migrant children and families are being held for too long in detention centers instead of being released while their asylum claims are considered. For their part, Republicans and immigration hawks complain that the willingness to let more migrants in while their asylum claims are heard has encouraged more migration from Central America. President Biden has asked senior officials of his team to visit the border region to provide him with a full briefing on the government’s response to unaccompanied minors and an assessment of additional measures that can be taken to ensure safety and security. the care of the latter, ”said White House spokesman Vedant Patel. The timing of the visit would be kept confidential due to security and privacy concerns, Patel said. shared with Reuters, a big one-day tally that comes amid growing fears that illegal entries could skyrocket in the coming weeks.Report by Steve Holland and Jarrett Renshaw; Written by Mohammad Zargham; Edited by Chris Reese and Peter Cooney.
DUBLIN (Reuters) – Britain’s decision to make unilateral changes to Northern Ireland’s Brexit arrangement is “not the proper behavior of a respectable country” and will erode confidence with the European Union, the senior Irish minister said on Thursday.
The European Union pledged legal action on Wednesday after the British government unilaterally extended a grace period for inspecting food imports to Northern Ireland, a move Brussels said violated the terms of the UK divorce deal.
“For the second time in months, the British government is threatening to violate international law,” Deputy Prime Minister Leo Varadkar told Virgin Media television, referring to a similar one-sided move last year that London ultimately canceled.
To be honest, this was not the proper behavior of a respectable country.
The fate of Northern Ireland was the most hotly contested issue during Britain’s Brexit negotiations, with London ultimately agreeing to leave UK-ruled territory aligned with the EU’s single market for goods, requiring checks on some of the goods arriving there from elsewhere in Great Britain.
That has created difficulties for businesses that say they are having trouble bringing in supplies, and more checks will be put in place when the grace period ends on March 31. Many business groups welcomed the move on Wednesday.
Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney warned that it was not the first time that the EU had seen Britain as an “untrustworthy” negotiating partner.
He said it also undermined Ireland’s efforts to convince Brussels of the need to make some changes to Northern Ireland protocol and targeted the new British minister overseeing EU relations, David Frost.
“Before Lord Frost spoke in detail with (EU Commission Vice President) Maros Sefcovic in his new role, this was announced. To say it is rude, would be an understatement, “Coveney told national broadcaster RTE.
“Vice President Sefcovic has shown a real willingness to try to resolve the issue of protocol and to make cases in the European Commission, Parliament and Council of Europe and make progress on that. To him being tampered with in this way by the British government was very unhelpful. “
Reporting by Padraic Halpin; Edited by Alex Richardson and Giles Elgood
GENEVA (Reuters) – Doctors Without Borders (MSF) staged a protest at the World Trade Organization on Thursday against what it says is the reluctance of the rich world to give up patents and allow more production of COVID-19 vaccines for poor countries.
Activists seeking to waive intellectual property rules unfurl a large sign reading “No Monopoly on COVID – Rich Countries Stop Blocking TRIPS Waivers” in a park next to the WTO headquarters on Lake Geneva.
They want the terms of the TRIPS agreement – Aspects of Intellectual Property Related to WTO Trade – to be replaced to allow generic or other manufacturers to make new products.
WTO member states are holding new talks next week on proposals by India and South Africa to override regulations for COVID-19 drugs and vaccines.
“If we have neglect, we will be able in a number of countries to increase production now, which will allow diagnostics, drugs and vaccines to get to where they are most needed,” Stephen Cornish, general director of MSF Switzerland, told Reuters at the WTO.
“At the moment we are seeing very few vaccines making it to the global South, and this is unacceptable in the world today,” he said.
About 100 countries are now supporting the campaign, Cornish added.
Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director general of the World Health Organization (WHO), backed up the move in a tweet on Thursday: “If a temporary patent waiver cannot be issued now, during these unprecedented times, when is the right time?”
“Big Pharmacy” has rejected a proposal that would grant compulsory licensing overriding patent rules. Britain, Switzerland and the United States, which have strong domestic pharmaceutical industries, are against neglect.
“Rich countries, EU, US, Canada and Switzerland … are blocking that reduction. And they’re doing it in the name of profit and business and the status quo instead of putting people’s lives over profit, “Cornish said.
Globally, 265 million doses of vaccine have been given, with 80% in just 10 countries, WHO emergency expert Mike Ryan said on social media on Wednesday evening.
He welcomed the launch of the first COVID-19 vaccine this week through the COVAX facility which aims to deliver doses to low-income countries, starting in Ivory Coast.
Nearly 10 million doses have been given in more than 10 countries, he said, adding: “It is a big step forward in terms of at least starting the journey towards better vaccine distribution around the world.”
additional reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Written by Stephanie Nebehay; edited by William Maclean