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Italy blocks export of AstraZeneca jabs to Australia

2021-03-05 HKT 01:43
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  • It's the first ban implemented under the EU vaccine export vetting scheme. Photo: AFP
    It's the first ban implemented under the EU vaccine export vetting scheme. Photo: AFP
Italy has blocked a shipment to Australia of AstraZeneca's Covid-19 vaccine in the first such export ban under an EU vaccine monitoring scheme, an EU source said on Thursday.

Rome's order blocking the dispatch of 250,000 doses was accepted by the European Commission, which has fiercely criticised the Anglo-Swedish company this year for supplying just a fraction of the vaccine doses it had promised to deliver to the bloc.

The doses came from a plant in Italy operated by AstraZeneca to produce some of its vaccine, one of three authorised for use in the EU alongside the BioNTech/Pfizer and Moderna versions.

The Italian government declined to comment on the export block, as did the European Commission.

Under the commission's "transparency and authorisation mechanism" EU member states vet planned exports out of the bloc of authorised Covid-19 vaccines.

The scheme started on January 30 and is to run until at least the end of March.

That period corresponds to a sharp shortfall in the first three months of this year of deliveries the EU had been counting on to kickstart its vaccine roll-out.

Most the shortfall is because AstraZeneca has pledged "best reasonable efforts" to deliver around 100 million doses in that time, but is now on track to supply just 40 percent of that.

At the same time, the UK-based company is fully supplying former EU member Britain with doses for its world-leading vaccination programme.

Australia started its inoculation rollout last week using the BioNTech/Pfizer vaccine. It is scheduled to start jabs with the AstraZeneca vaccine from Friday.

The World Health Organisation in January said the EU export vetting scheme is part of a "very worrying trend" that could jeopardise global supply chains for vaccines. The EU is one of the world's vaccine-producing powerhouses.

Under the EU scheme, a company wanting to export doses out of the bloc needs to apply to the member state government to do so.

That government then notifies the commission, which looks to see if the company is respecting its contracts, including with the EU, and if any production shortages are equally spread out between the EU and the export destination.

The member state can authorise or refuse the export in line with the commission's opinion.

A European official said the ban proposed by Rome was "approved by the European Commission," which offered no objection.

The Italian foreign ministry issued the export denial "the same day" that the commission said it agreed with the measure, the official said.

The commission and Italy's government have come in for sharp criticism by Italians for a slow vaccination rollout, which started in December but has been held up by a lack of doses.

So far, 1.5 million adults, mainly the elderly and health workers, have been fully vaccinated in the country of 60 million. (AFP)