via NCA NewsWire
via NCA NewsWire

Mystery deepens over Aussie shipment

A large shipment of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine has arrived in Australia as the world continues to grapple with shortage issues, but questions still remain over the shipment.

More than 400,000 doses of the vaccine arrived on Sunday days after Italy blocked a shipment of 250,000 doses of the vaccine to Australia, backed by the European Union.

According to The Financial Times, the Italian government notified Brussels of its decision to prevent 250,000 doses from being exported to Australia at the end of last week. The European Commission could have objected to that decision, and did not.

The European Union was blasted as a "total disgrace" for allowing Italy to block the doses of and some Brits even offered to forego their jab so more can be sent here.

The world continues to bicker over shortages of the vaccine, with the UK the latest to stoush with the European Council over claims it had banned all exports of the vaccine. British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab reportedly wrote to Charles Michel, the president of the European Council, slamming the claims as "completely false".

Initially the question remained over the number of AstraZeneca doses on the way to Australia and when it would arrive and while those questions have been answered, the origin of the latest shipment of 414,000 doses has remained a mystery.

Another 149,000 Pfizer vaccines also arrived yesterday. Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the country now has enough doses to last until local production begins.

In Canberra, he said Australia's vaccination rollout has surpassed the 100,000 mark with a total of 1.3 million doses of both the AstraZeneca and Pfizer vaccines now in Australia.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison visits the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) to see their AstraZeneca batch release assessment process. Picture: Adam Taylor
Prime Minister Scott Morrison visits the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) to see their AstraZeneca batch release assessment process. Picture: Adam Taylor

Mr Morrison, along with Health Department secretary Brendan Murphy, defended the slow rollout and urged patience.

"This is not a race. We are taking it as quickly and carefully and safely as we can, we're not like the US or the UK or most other countries in the world where they've got people in hospital dying," Mr Murphy said on Wednesday.

"The real ramp up starts with the release of the locally produced AstraZeneca vaccine. That's when we'll have lots of supply, we'll be able to distribute it to simply thousands of GP points of contact and that's when we'll see the real scale-up.

The government expects to begin manufacturing the vaccine domestically this month.

News.com.au has contacted the Australian Government's Department of Health for comment.

WHAT HAPPENED?

In January, the European Commission introduced rules requiring vaccine manufacturers based in European Union countries to get authorisation from the nation where their vaccine is produced before they can export doses.

It did so in response to an admission from AstraZeneca that it was falling well behind its supply target for the EU. The idea was to keep as many doses as possible inside the union.

"In the future, all companies producing vaccines against COVID-19 in the EU will have to provide early notification whenever they want to export vaccines to third countries," Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides said at the time.

The AstraZeneca vaccine is manufactured in multiple countries. It is packaged at sites in Germany and Italy.

This is the first time the EU's export control system has been invoked. It is currently set to expire in March, but Reuters reports the commission wants to extend it through to the end of June. As things stand, the EU has vaccinated less than 10 per cent of its population.

WHY WOULD ITALY BLOCK THE SHIPMENT?

A new Italian government, led by Prime Minister Mario Draghi, came into power last month and immediately took a harder line on dealing with vaccine shortages.

Mr Draghi has called for companies that fail to fulfil their contractual obligations to the EU to be sanctioned. On Monday, he fired his country's COVID-19 commissioner, Domenico Arcuri, and replaced him with Army General Francesco Paolo Figliuolo.

Neither AstraZeneca nor the European Commission have commented on the news.

English journalist Kelvin MacKenzie erupted at the report, writing: "The EU is a disgrace. Read this. Under new protectionist laws they have banned Italy shipping 250,000 AZ jabs to Australia.

"Europe is short of vaccine due to its own stupidity. France and Germany don't even believe in AZ but won't let anybody else have it. Shockers."

ASTRAZENECA IN AUSTRALIA

About 60,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine have been administered in Australia so far, but most Australians are set to receive the AstraZeneca jab.

The first doses of that version, which have come in from overseas, will be administered today in South Australia and Western Australia. Eventually, 50 million doses will be manufactured locally, in Melbourne.

Speaking to reporters last week, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said 300,000 AstraZeneca doses had been approved for use after arriving in Sydney on Sunday.

"I can tell you that the batch testing for the AstraZeneca vaccine that has arrived has been completed, and it's being distributed to the states, and I understand the first of those vaccines will be administered in South Australia tomorrow," Mr Morrison said.

"That's welcome news, the receipt of those vaccines that we were able to secure from overseas, supporting this first phase of this rollout of the vaccine across the country.

"Let's not forget, though, that 50 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine will be made right here in Australia, in Melbourne.

"We took the decision to have the sovereign capability to do that, because we did not want to be, over the course of our vaccination program in Australia, overly reliant or dependent on supply chains from somewhere else.

"So we did it here. We built it here. And we are one of the few countries in the world that have that capability.

"So, while these initial doses of AstraZeneca that have come in from overseas have been approved by the Therapeutic Goods Administration, and now batch tested, (they) will be rolled out. And that commences from tomorrow.

"What will follow that is, ultimately, the approval of the manufacturing process here in Australia for the AstraZeneca vaccine, which will launch the next very significant phase of the homegrown vaccination of Australians for COVID-19."

Originally published as Mystery deepens over Aussie shipment


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