Por Colin Packham
CANBERRA, Apr 6 (Reuters) – The European Union has withheld the shipment of 3.1 million doses of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine to Australia, giving Australia little hope of reaching 400,000 in time. remaining doses that have been promised, an official Australian source said Tuesday.
The curb on exports highlights the huge shortage of AstraZeneca vaccines across the EU bloc and complicates Australia’s vaccination campaign, which is already 83% behind its original schedule.
With its vaccination campaign far behind those of the United Kingdom and the United States, the EU last month tightened its supervision of vaccine exports, being able to block shipments to countries with higher inoculation rates.
“They have blocked 3.1 million vaccines so far,” the Australian government source said, adding that it has only received 300,000 doses and that another 400,000 are scheduled to arrive by the end of April.
“We have not given up hope, but we have stopped counting them in our supply forecast,” said the source, who declined to be named as it was not authorized to speak on the matter.
As of Tuesday Australia had only confirmed the blocking of 250,000 doses of AstraZeneca from the EU, which Canberra said at the time would not delay its vaccination schedule.
AstraZeneca did not immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday.
An EU spokeswoman said it had rejected only one COVID-19 vaccine export request out of a total of 491 since export transparency improved in late January. Seven applications are currently being reviewed, he added.
The spokeswoman for the European bloc did not want to say whether the requests to send to Australia are being reviewed.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Tuesday that the missing shipments were responsible for the country failing to meet its vaccination schedule.
“At the beginning of January we anticipated that we would have the 3.1 million vaccines. Those vaccines were not supplied to Australia,” Morrison told the media in Canberra. “That’s the reason”.
AstraZeneca vaccines due to arrive in Australia from Europe would underpin the early stages of the country’s vaccination campaign, complementing the 50 million injections of the vaccine that will be produced locally by CSL Ltd.
However, the latest supply blockages make it difficult for Australia to accelerate the pace of its vaccination campaign, which started much later than other countries due to the low number of cases.
Australia has recorded just 909 coronavirus deaths since the pandemic began and said Tuesday that it will implement a system of quarantine-free travel and COVID testing with New Zealand this month, after effectively eradicating the virus by closing borders last year.
Its vaccination program is currently long overdue, with only about 670,000 people inoculated against the initial target of 4 million by the end of March.
While the Australian government blamed the slow deployment on supply problems with Europe, the governments of the various Australian states have also complained of a slower than expected distribution and lack of security in supplies.
(Information from Colin Packham and Renju Jose; additional information from Francesco Guarascio from Brussels; edited by Miyoung Kim and Nick Macfie; translated by Darío Fernández in the Gdansk newsroom)