There is potentially a new threat to Australia’s Covid-19 vaccine rollout after the French Health Minister said France could do the same as Italy in blocking the overseas shipments of vaccines made in Europe.
AstraZeneca had requested permission from the Italian government to export some 250,000 doses from its Anagni plant, near Rome, to Australia however because it had failed to meet its EU contract commitments, its shipment was blocked.
The European Union has backed Italy’s call with the Health Minister Greg Hunt saying Thursday that “Australia has raised the issue with the European Commission”.
The doses are a small percentage of the more than 50 million AstraZeneca doses acquired by Australia, but it was the latest setback for a vaccine rollout that has already fallen behind schedule nationwide – with the potential for more shipment delays.
When asked about Italy's move, French Health Minister Olivier Veran said that Paris could do the same, although at the moment it produces no Covid-19 vaccines.
“Of course, I understand what Italy did,” Mr Véran told CNN affiliate, BFM.
“We could do the same thing.”
German Health Minister Jens Spahn said that drug manufacturers must honour vaccine supply contracts to Europe, but said Germany had not yet had any reason to stop shipments of shots produced domestically to other countries.
Italy hits three million Covid-19 cases
While seeking the European Commission's intervention, 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," he told reporters in Sydney.
A Department of Health spokesperson told Yahoo News Australia the decision to block the shipment would not
affect the rollout with production on Australian soil set to commence in just weeks.
"The first International Shipment of 300,000 doses already arrived which takes us through to the commencement of domestic CSL supplies," they said.
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.
EU countries started inoculations at the end of December, but are moving at a far slower pace than other rich nations, including former member Britain and the United States. Officials blame the slow progress in part on supply problems with manufacturers.
Italy surpassed three million confirmed coronavirus cases, with Friday marking the third straight day this week that daily new cases exceeded 20,000.
With the 24,036 new confirmed infections registered by the health ministry, Italy has now reached more than 3,023,129 known cases.
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