SYDNEY - Australia says losing “one shipment” of the Oxford University-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine drug because of an export ban in Italy would not badly affect its mass inoculation program. Italy is the first European Union country to use the bloc's new regulations that allow exports to be stopped if a vaccine producer has failed to meet its obligations to the EU.
Italy’s export ban affects 250,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine that were purchased by Australia.
Officials in Canberra say the move will not affect the pace of a nationwide vaccination rollout, but they do want the European Union to review the decision.
Australia is caught up in tensions between the drug company and European nations over the supply of the COVID-19 serum. There are fears that Italy’s ban could be the start of vaccine hoarding.
“Vaccine nationalism - in other words one country making a decision to prioritize its needs over the vulnerable in other countries - is a very real risk, and that’s what we are now starting to see play out here, says Jane Halton, head of the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovation. “And I certainly hope it doesn’t become a global trend.”
Italy has justified stopping the shipment by saying Australia, which has recorded a total of 29,000 COVID-19 cases, was considered “not vulnerable” at this point in the coronavirus pandemic.
Australia’s chief medical officer, Paul Kelly, said the country was in an “excellent place” regarding the virus. Health authorities estimate there are fewer than 80 active coronavirus cases in Australia.
The country of 25 million people recently began its mass vaccination program, using the Pfizer BioNtech drug.
Australia has a key weapon against so-called vaccine nationalism. Domestic production of the AstraZeneca vaccine is expected to deliver 1 million doses each week by the end of the month.
An earlier shipment of 300,000 imported doses of the AstraZeneca serum allowed injections to begin in Australia Friday.