Friday, 16 Apr 2021

EU BLOCKS shipment of 250,000 AstraZeneca vaccines destined for Australia amid Covid vaccine chaos

THE EU has blocked shipment of 250,000 AstraZeneca jabs destined for Australia amid the bloc’s Covid vaccine chaos.

The controversial move came after the drug manufacturer failed to meet its EU contract commitments, say sources.

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A shipment of a quarter million AstraZeneca vaccines was to be sent to help Australians fight the coronavirus.

But health bosses there have been left in limbo after the delivery was brutally barred from leaving the European Union.

Italy told Brussels last week that under the EU’s vaccine export transparency regime it was preventing the shipment.

It's the first use of an export control system instituted by the bloc over a month ago – and paves the way for more countries missing out on their vital rollouts.

An EU official, who asked not to be identified because of the sensitivity of the issue, confirmed a Financial Times report revealing the devastating action.

The paper says the move threatens to increase global tensions over procurement of Covid jabs.

Italy was the first and sole country to spearhead the move, reports the FT.

Although the European Commission has power to object to Italy's decision – it did not, officials said.

The 250,000 doses were to be sent from AstraZeneca's Anagni plant near Rome.

Italy has been taking a tough line in dealing with vaccine shortages within the 27-nation bloc since a new government led by Mario Draghi came into power last month.

It follows the EU issuing an export control system for Covid vaccines.

This must ensure that companies respect their contractual obligations to the bloc before commercial exports can be approved elsewhere – including to Australia.

The bloc has taken the churlish action after being faced with shortages of doses during the early stages of the vaccine campaign that started in late December.

The EU has been specifically angry with the the Anglo-Swedish company because it accuses it of delivering far fewer doses to the bloc than it had promised.

There was no immediate comment from AstraZeneca.

In January the firm cut its supplies to the EU in the first quarter to 40million doses from 90million foreseen in its contract.

It later told EU states it would cut deliveries by another 50 per cent in the second quarter.

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

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

The site is owned by US group Catalent, that was expected to handle hundreds of millions of AstraZeneca doses over the next 12 months.

The Anagni plant is also expected to help produce the vaccine developed by American drugmaker Johnson & Johnson.

The bloc's vaccination programme is failing miserably as it has vaccinated only eight per cent of its population – far less than the UK's more than 30 per cent.

Scaremongering by European politicians, including French president Emmanuel Macron, has led to a low vaccine uptake in some countries, leaving them lagging well behind the UK.

Data shows some snail-pace European nations will not manage to jab the majority of adults until 2023 if they continue at their current rate.

UK regulators approved the Pfizer and AstraZeneca vaccines much earlier than the equivalent EU body, the European Medicines Agency.

And EU commission chief Ursula von der Leyen took control of ordering doses for the whole bloc, a decision many blame for agonising delays

Angela Merkel has been forced to extend lockdown by three weeks as Germany is finally set to approve AstraZeneca’s Covid jab for over-65s.

Berlin has been snubbing the life-saving vaccine – despite real-world results showing it is 94 per cent effective at reducing hospital admissions for coronavirus.

Australia has been celebrating the first doses of AstraZeneca vaccines, with Nine News reporting that "jabs will be poked into South Australian arms tomorrow [Friday] after the state became the first in Australia to ready the rollout for the new vaccine.

A thousand doses have already arrived in South Australia, with Murray Bridge Hospital set to deliver the first AstraZeneca vaccines in the country.

"It's a feeling of excitement and relief that it's finally here, that we're prepared, we've got our staff trained, we're ready to go," hospital director of midwifery and nursing Sharon Harrison said.

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