EU fury: UK urged to help Australia after bloc’s ‘abhorrent’ jab snub – ‘moral obligation’

Vaccine row: EU solidarity 'benefits everyone' says Beaune

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Italian prime minister Mario Draghi announced he would block a shipment of AstraZeneca vaccines to Australia yesterday, meaning 250,000 doses would not be delivered – after getting the green light from the European Commission. The move came after AstraZeneca was forced to delay exporting vaccines to the EU at the start of the year. The company said it could only supply about 40 million doses of the 90 million foreseen in the contract for the first quarter of this year.

Commentator Darren Grimes shared his anger at Italy’s decision, while urging the UK to prioritise helping Commonwealth nations such as Australia with excess vaccine supplies, rather than the “abhorrent” EU.

He wrote on Twitter: “I don’t understand those who say we have a moral obligation to help the EU, that has acted so abhorrently, first.

“What about our Commonwealth brothers and sisters, like Australia, that are seeing exports of the Oxford vaccine blocked by Brussels?”

He was responding to a Twitter user called Philip Murray, who said: “I sincerely hope Australia will be top of the list for the UK’s excess vaccine supplies.”

Australia has now asked the European Commission to review the decision.

Australian health minister Greg Hunt said: “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.”

Mr Hunt said Australia had already received 300,000 doses of AstraZeneca’s Covid vaccine, which would last until local production of the vaccine ramps up.

The country’s finance minister Simon Birmingham added: ”The world is in uncharted territory at present, it’s unsurprising that some countries would tear up the rule book.”

He told Sky News Australia: “We are obviously disappointed and frustrated by this decision.

“It is very much a reminder of the desperation that exists in other parts of the world, compared with the very good position we found ourselves in here in Australia.”

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said he could understand why Italy had lashed out.

He said: “In Italy people are dying at the rate of 300 a day.

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“And so I can certainly understand the high level of anxiety that would exist in Italy and in many countries across Europe.”

Mr Draghi added the country was blocking a quarter of million doses because the drug manufacturer had failed to meet its EU contract commitments.

Lia Quartapelle, an Italian politician of the Democratic Party (PD), said the move was legal due to EU law.

He said today: “I’m amazed by the fact that the problem is that Italy bans the export and the problem is not AstraZeneca not delivering what is written in the contracts.

“Italy is coming under scrutiny for something that is allowed while AstraZeneca is doing something that is not allowed under the contract it signed. I do not understand why.”

Olivier Veran, the French health minister, also warned today France could block shipments of vaccines to non-EU countries.

He said: “I understand (the Italian position). We could do the same thing.

“We believe in a European approach … France has the right to talk to its European neighbours to ensure that laboratories respect their commitments and contracts. That seems to me to be common sense.”

Italy’s move came just days after Mr Draghi said the bloc needed to speed up vaccinations and crack down on companies that had failed to deliver on promised supplies.

EU countries started inoculations at the end of December, but are moving at a far slower pace than many other nations, with officials blaming the slow progress in part on supply problems with key manufacturers.

The EU signed a deal with AstraZeneca last August for 300 million doses, with an option for 100 million more.

However, the company admitted there were production delays at plants in the Netherlands and Belgium earlier in the year.

Instead of receiving 100 million doses by the end of March, the EU is now expected to get 40 million.

The EU lashed out at the vaccine producer, with EU Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides even saying that UK factories making the vaccine should make up the shortfall.

Despite the chaotic start, the EU has still set a goal of vaccinating 70 percent of the adult population by the end of summer.

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