Australia accuses EU of plunging rollout into crisis by holding AstraZeneca jabs hostage

EU warned of 'retaliation' from UK on vaccine export ban

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Prime minister Scott Morrison said the European Commission wasn’t directly to blame for a 3.1 million shortfall in his country’s supply of the AstraZeneca jab. But a government spokesman went further, insisting the doses would’ve arrived if it wasn’t for Brussels’ ban on the export of the life-saving medical supplies. It comes after an Australian government source claimed the EU had prevented millions of doses made on the Continent from being shipped to Canberra.

Speaking at a news conference today, Mr Morrison said: “At no time yesterday did I make any comment about the actions of the European Union, not did I indicate any of the background reasons for the lack of supply that we have received from those contracted doses.

“I simply stated a fact – that 3.1 million of the contracted vaccines that we had been relying upon in early January when we’d set out a series of targets did not turn up.”

Australia’s vaccination initial rollout has been reliant on AstraZeneca jabs made in Europe before the domestic production of 50 million doses can be set up.

Mr Morrison has blamed the shortfall on jabs on his countries slow vaccination programme, which has fallen 83 percent behind schedule.

EU officials denied that they had prevented any more shipments from being sent to Australia.

In early March, Brussels seized 250,000 vaccine doses being shipped from Italy to Canberra.

Australian government officials are suspicious that the bloc’s export ban is having an indirect on their AstraZeneca supply.

A spokesman said: “AstraZeneca has not been able to secure an export licence from Europe to send the remaining doses, and they know they would never be approved by the European Commission.

“The European Commission itself has confirmed their export control regime has blocked the export of a number of those doses, including a shipment of 250,000 doses, and they also requested we withdraw other export permit applications.”

They added: “The European Commission is arguing semantics but at the end of the day, all we want is what Australians have ordered so we can get more vaccines in arms.”

Mr Morrison has signalled he will hold talks with Commission President Ursula von der Leyen to secure approval for the AstraZeneca jabs to be exported.

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But EU officials insist the Australian prime minister is lobbying the wrong people, and should focus his efforts on the Anglo-Swedish pharma giant.

A Commission spokesman said: “The contract that Australia has signed is with AstraZeneca, not the EU.”

EU sources say eurocrats have not received any export authorisation requests by AstraZeneca to send doses to Australia.

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A senior official told the Politico website: “There are currently no other AstraZeneca requests for shipments to Australia in the pipeline.”

Under the EU’s export ban, vaccine producers have to request permission to send doses abroad.

So far just one shipment out of 491 export requests have been vetoed, seven more are pending review.

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