EU first as Italy blocks export of COVID-19 vaccines to Australia

Italy has blocked a shipment of coronavirus vaccines going to Australia – the first time a new EU export control mechanism has been used.

The government of Mario Draghi, Italy”s newly appointed prime minister, asked Brussels for the export to be blocked last Friday.

The European Commission has now given its approval to the request, an EU source told Euronews.

The shipment contained more than 250,000 doses, reported Italian news agency ANSA.

Brussels introduced the export control mechanism in January amid a row with AstraZeneca after the pharmaceutical firm said it be delivering fewer jabs to the EU than planned. The idea was to stop vaccines made in the EU from leaving the bloc if needs be.

Amid criticism of the mechanism, Brussels insisted it had – prior to Italy’s request – approved all export requests.

Many countries around the world, like Canada, Japan and Australia, depend upon European plants to procure vaccines for their citizens.

Since taking office, Draghi has voiced his concern around the sluggish vaccine roll-out.

During last week’s meeting of European leaders, he urged his colleagues and the European Commission to “go faster” and expressed his preference to keep EU-made vaccines inside the bloc.

Just two weeks ago, the European External Action Services (EEAS) released a statement celebrating the arrival of the first EU-made doses in Australia.

“More than 142,000 doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine have arrived at Sydney airport from the European Union in a major milestone in Australia’s response to the pandemic,” the statement said.

Last Sunday, another shipment of 300,000 AstraZeneca doses manufactured in Europe landed on Australian soil.

In total, Australia has secured 53.8 million doses of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine, with 50 million expected to be produced inside the country.

AstraZeneca has been previously suspected of sending EU-made jabs to other countries, particularly to the United Kingdom.

These suspicions led to a public row with the European Commission and, after a fractious back-and-forth, to the introduction of the exports control scheme.

Italy’s extraordinary move is set to trigger a diplomatic dispute and could exacerbate tensions and resentment in the heated vaccination race, which has put some countries on top with others lagging behind.

The World Health Organization has for months warned against the threat of vaccine nationalism, saying that “nobody is safe until everybody is safe”. However, the global scarcity of jabs has led countries to adopt exceptional measures to guarantee their citizens are inoculated first.

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