Italy Blocks Shipments Of AstraZeneca Covid Vaccine To Australia Amid EU Shortfall

Australia's finance minister said it was "unsurprising that some countries would tear up the rule book".

The European Commission and Italy have blocked a shipment of AstraZeneca’s coronavirus vaccine destined for Australia after the drug manufacturer failed to meet its EU contract commitments.

Italy, supported by the European Commission, barred the planned export of around 250,000 doses of AstraZeneca’s vaccine on Thursday.

Italy’s move came just days after Prime Minister Mario Draghi, who took office last month, told fellow EU leaders that the bloc needed to speed up vaccinations and crack down on pharma companies that failed to deliver on promised supplies.

There was no immediate comment from AstraZeneca, but Australian authorities have now asked the EC to review its decision “through multiple channels”, Reuters reported.

Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison said he could understand reasons for Italy’s objection.

“In Italy people are dying at the rate of 300 a day. And so I can certainly understand the high level of anxiety that would exist in Italy and in many countries across Europe,” Morrison told reporters in Sydney.

Speaking to Sky News Australia on Thursday, Australia’s finance minister Simon Birmingham said: “The world is in unchartered territory at present - it’s unsurprising that some countries would tear up the rule book.”

Australian health minister Greg Hunt told reporters in Melbourne that Australia had already received 300,000 doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, which would last until local production of the vaccine ramps up.

Australia began its inoculation programme two weeks ago, vaccinating frontline health staff and senior citizens with Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine though doses of that vaccine are limited amid tight global supplies.

EU countries started inoculations at the end of December, but are moving at a far slower pace than other nations, including Israel and ex-EU member Britain. Officials have blamed the slow progress in part on supply problems with key manufacturers.

AstraZeneca in January cut its supplies to the EU in the first quarter to 40 million doses from 90 million foreseen in the contract, and later told EU states it would cut deliveries by another 50% in the second quarter.

The company later said it was striving to supply missing doses for the second quarter from outside Europe.

Thursday’s ban is believed to be the first time Europe has prevented vaccine exports to a third country.

The plant in Anagni is handling the final stage of the AstraZeneca production - the so-called fill and finishing of its Covid-19 vaccine.

The site is owned by US group Catalent that was expected to handle hundreds of millions of AstraZeneca doses over the coming 12 months. The Anagni plant is also expected to help produce the vaccine developed by US drugmaker Johnson & Johnson.