EU takes heat after Italy halts vaccines to Australia

March 5, 2021

All eyes are on the EU vaccine rollout after the Italian government blocked a shipment of Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccines to Australia, as the EU continues to struggle to distribute vaccines across its 27-member region.

Yesterday Reuters reported that UK-based AstraZeneca had requested permission from Rome to ship around 250,000 doses from its Anagni, Italy, plant — and the Italian government refused. The fill-finish plant in Anagni is owned by Catalent.

In a televised interview this morning, France's Health Minister Olivier Veran seemingly backed Italy's move, saying that France might consider the same actions.

Back in January, the EU put controls in place through the end of March that give powers to member states to reject authorizing exports if the drugmakers  do not honor contracts. It is now planning to extend the action until the end of June after it expires on March 31, EU officials told Reuters.

The controls were a response to AstraZeneca cutting its supplies to the EU in the first quarter to 40 million doses from the 90 million written in the contract. The drugmaker later said it would cut deliveries to EU states by another 50 percent in the second quarter.

The EU regulation does not allow member states to block distribution to poorer nations, however Australia is not on the EU’s list of vulnerable nations.

“Australia has raised the issue with the European Commission through multiple channels, and in particular we have asked the European Commission to review this decision,” Australian Health Minister Greg Hunt told reporters in Melbourne.