The European Union has refuted reports that it prevented a shipment of over 3 million doses of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 from reaching Australia.
While defending his government’s vaccine rollout, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Tuesday that 3.1 million doses of the vaccine had been barred from entering the country.
The EU, on the other hand, denied blame after Reuters claimed that an Australian government source said the EU had blocked 3.1 million vaccine shots.
The European Commission’s chief spokesman told a press conference on Tuesday (local time) that the only vaccine export authorisation request that had been refused to Australia was the widely publicized request for 250,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine last month from Italy.
“There was, at that point in time only one request, which had been refused, which is the well-known request to Australia but for much, much smaller quantities which dates now back quite some time and there has been no further development since then,” spokesman Eric Mamer said.
“So we certainly cannot confirm any new decision to block vaccine exports to Australia or to any other country for that matter.”
The commission was “arguing semantics,” according to the federal government, and did not support Australia’s vaccine orders or a plan for a million doses to be sent to Papua New Guinea.
“If you’re not approving, it’s the same as effectively you’re blocking,” Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said.
“The Europeans have made absolutely clear in both their public and private statements that no further doses of AstraZeneca will be flowing until they’ve met their own orders domestically, so this is the problem we have.”
It comes as Australia continues to lag behind in its vaccine implementation, with official figures released on Monday showing that just over 850,000 AstraZeneca and Pfizer vaccines had been administered across the world, far short of the 4 million doses promised by the government by April this year.
The EU has been dealing with significant shortages of the AstraZeneca vaccine as the pharmaceutical business struggles to meet demand, with the company now promising to supply just 100 million doses to Europe by the end of June, down from the 300 million it had promised.
According to Reuters, the EU is not to blame for AstraZeneca’s inability to meet its obligations to other countries.
In an attempt to protect its own supply, the EU tightened its rules on vaccine exports earlier this year, enabling EU member nations where the vaccine is manufactured to refuse to permit exports to non-EU countries.
‘They Didn’t Give us Enough Time’
Mr Morrison said on Tuesday that supply problems overseas had delayed Australia’s vaccine rollout, saying that the import of 3.1 million vaccine doses had been blocked.
“In early January, we had anticipated we would have those 3.1 million vaccines,” he said.
“Those 3.1 million vaccines were not supplied to Australia, and that explains the difference between the numbers.
“We made that very clear back in February, and we made it very clear that they were indicative figures we were working to at that time.”
Agriculture Minister David Littleproud went even further, accusing the EU of making Australia “vaccine-short.”
“We are 3 million short at the moment,” he told the Nine Network.
“We were 3 million short by the EU.
“They cut us short.”
The first shipments of the AstraZeneca vaccine were intended to help kick-start Australia’s vaccine rollout, with local drugmaker CSL producing the 50 million shots.
The first week of the program saw about 830,000 local doses distributed, but it’s unclear how many have been released since then.
2.5 million doses are now in cold storage at CSL, pending batch processing by the drug regulator, the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA).
Source: ABC World News