The Italian government with the backing of Brussels has blocked 250,000 doses shipment of Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine to Australia.
Italy is the first EU country to use the bloc’s new regulations allowing vaccine exports to be stopped if the company providing the vaccines has failed to meet its obligations to the EU. The move has been backed by the European Commission, reports say.
Australia said it had already received a shipment of 300,000 doses and planned to begin local production next month. “Domestic production starts with 1 million doses per week of deliveries from late March and is on track,” said Health Minister Greg Hunt.
Australia said losing “one shipment” would not badly affect its rollout.
The Italian government approached the European Commission last week to say that it was its intention to block the shipment.
In a statement on Thursday, the foreign ministry explained the move, saying it had received the request for authorisation on 24 February.
It said that previous requests had been given the green light as they included limited numbers of samples for scientific research, but the latest one – being much larger, for more than 250,000 doses – was rejected.
It explained the move by saying that Australia was not on a list of “vulnerable” countries, that there was a permanent shortage of vaccines in the EU and Italy, and that the number of doses was high compared with the amount given to Italy and to the EU as a whole.