The EU has used an export control mechanism for the first time to prevent a shipment of doses being shipped before they are given to the bloc
The European Commission and Italy have blocked a shipment of the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine that was destined for use in Australia.
The British-Swedish pharmaceutical company had failed to meet its contract commitments to the EU so the Italian government has refused its request to export 250,000 doses of the vaccine from its Anagni plant near the Italian capital of Rome, according to the news agency Reuters .
Italy had made the request and it was signed off by the European Commission under its new export control system that was made a law on the 30th of January. This is the first time that it has been used by an EU member state.
This comes after Ireland’s foreign minister has said that the EU is “negotiating with a partner it simply can’t trust” in post-Brexit talks between the two parties. On Wednesday, the UK has said that it would be unilaterally extending the grace periods for Irish Sea border checks, a move that the EU said would be breaching international law.
It is understood that the doses will now be redistributed within the European Union, where around 8% of the population has now been vaccinated, which is compared with more than 30% in the UK.
Australia is set to start its rollout of the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine by Monday and is expecting to be receiving 1.2m doses from Europe, with 300,000 having had arrived over the weekend. The Australian government is yet to comment on the blocked vaccine shipment.
This is the latest incident in a running feud with the EU that started in late January when AstraZeneca, whose coromavirus vaccine was developed with Oxford University, announced that it would only be able to provide around 40% of the doses that it had agreed to hand over to the EU in the first quarter of 2021, as a result of manufacturing issues.
European leaders demanded that the pharmaceutical company should do more, including sending vaccine doses that are made in the UK, but AstraZeneca initially refused this demand.
This comes after 15 million people in the UK have been vaccinated for the coronavirus, with everyone in the top four of the UK’s priority groups having been offered a vaccine for COVID-19, the nation’s health secretary has now confirmed.
The export control mechanism was being introduced during that initial disagreement and means that companies have to respect their contractual obligations to the European Union before they engage in any commercial exports of their products.
Despite this, the COVID-19 vaccine rollout in the 27-member bloc has so far been slow, yet the EU insists that they want 70% of all adults in Europe to have received the vaccine by the end of the summer.