Italy blocks 250,000 vaccine doses to Australia


Italy has blocked a substantial shipment of the AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine to Australia, preventing 250,000 doses from reaching us.

In January, the European Commission introduced rules requiring vaccine manufacturers based in European Union countries to get authorisation from the nation where their vaccine is produced before they can export doses.

It did so in response to an admission from AstraZeneca that it was falling well behind its supply target for the EU. The idea was to keep as many doses as possible inside the union.

"In the future, all companies producing vaccines against COVID-19 in the EU will have to provide early notification whenever they want to export vaccines to third countries," Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides said at the time.

The AstraZeneca vaccine is manufactured in multiple countries. It is packaged at sites in Germany and Italy.

According to The Financial Times, the Italian government notified Brussels of its decision to prevent 250,000 doses from being exported to Australia at the end of last week. The European Commission could have objected to that decision, and did not.

This is the first time the EU's export control system has been invoked. It is currently set to expire in March, but Reuters reports the commission wants to extend it through to the end of June. As things stand, the EU has vaccinated less than 10 per cent of its population.

A new Italian government, led by Prime Minister Mario Draghi, came into power last month and immediately took a harder line on dealing with vaccine shortages.

Mr Draghi has called for companies that fail to fulfil their contractual obligations to the EU to be sanctioned. On Monday, he fired his country's COVID-19 commissioner, Domenico Arcuri, and replaced him with Army General Francesco Paolo Figliuolo.

Neither AstraZeneca nor the European Commission have commented on today's news.

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About 60,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine have been administered in Australia so far, but most Australians are set to receive the AstraZeneca jab.

The first doses of that version, which have come in from overseas, will be administered today in South Australia and Western Australia. Eventually, 50 million doses will be manufactured locally, in Melbourne.

Speaking to reporters yesterday, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said 300,000 AstraZeneca doses had been approved for use after arriving in Sydney on Sunday.

"I can tell you that the batch testing for the AstraZeneca vaccine that has arrived has been completed, and it's being distributed to the states, and I understand the first of those vaccines will be administered in South Australia tomorrow," Mr Morrison said.

"That's welcome news, the receipt of those vaccines that we were able to secure from overseas, supporting this first phase of this rollout of the vaccine across the country.

"Let's not forget, though, that 50 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine will be made right here in Australia, in Melbourne.

"We took the decision to have the sovereign capability to do that, because we did not want to be, over the course of our vaccination program in Australia, overly reliant or dependent on supply chains from somewhere else.

"So we did it here. We built it here. And we are one of the few countries in the world that have that capability.

"So, while these initial doses of AstraZeneca that have come in from overseas have been approved by the Therapeutic Goods Administration, and now batch tested, (they) will be rolled out. And that commences from tomorrow.

"What will follow that is, ultimately, the approval of the manufacturing process here in Australia for the AstraZeneca vaccine, which will launch the next very significant phase of the homegrown vaccination of Australians for COVID-19."

Originally published as Australia loses access to 250,000 doses