Italian Foreign Minister, Luigi Di Maio, insisted the delayed export of 250,000 vaccine doses to Australia was in response to a failed promise by pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca.
Due to an EU regulation introduced on January 30, the Italian government was able to block a scheduled delivery of vaccine doses to Australia in order to cater to the distribution shortage in Italy.
The British variant has seen a rise in COVID-19 cases across Italy, as 25,000 new cases were recorded over the past week, including 300 deaths. The Italian government feels the situation in Italy outweighs Australia’s needs and that they have acted accordingly to the EU regulation act.
“All of Europe is now ravaged by the British variant and by the concern for the increase in infections,” said Di Maio. “In coordination with the European institutions, we have decided not to allow the export of these 250,000 doses.“
“It is not a hostile act towards Australia. We have only applied an EU regulation approved on January 30th,“ he added.
There has been an ongoing dispute between the EU and AstraZeneca after the pharmaceutical giant informed EU officials that 40 million doses were to be delivered across Europe by the end of the month, instead of 90 million which was the initial contract agreement.
Australian Health Minister, Greg Hunt, assured Australians that Italy’s decision would not affect the country’s vaccine distribution as the shipment “had not been factored into our distribution to the states and territories.“
Minister Hunt said the Australian government had “raised the issue with the European Commission through multiple channels,” and had asked the European Commission to review this decision.
Italy’s decision was brought up with the European commission by Australia’s trade minister, Dab Tehan. On behalf of the EU Commission, a commission spokesperson stated that “progress needs to be made on the deliveries to EU countries.”
In an attempt to placate the situation, Health Minister Greg Hunt said in regards to Italy’s decision that “one particular shipment from one particular country“ is not a major concern, pointing to AstraZeneca’s previous shipment of 300,000 doses, which was delivered earlier in the week.
AstraZeneca’s first shipment of doses to Australia was distributed throughout Murray Bridge in regional South Australia last Friday. The first Australian-produced AstraZeneca doses are set to be ready for March 22.