Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has pushed back against allegations he criticised the European Union over delays in the arrival of the AstraZeneca vaccine on Tuesday.
Speaking at a press conference on Wednesday, he said that he had “simply stated a fact” that 3.1 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine did not arrive in Australia from the European Union (EU) by the end of March as initially planned.
“3.1 million of the contracted vaccines that we had been relying upon in early January, when we’d set out a series of targets, did not turn up in Australia,” Morrison said.
The federal government had originally contracted for 3.8 million doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine in September 2020. But in early January the government was told that only 1.2 million doses out of the original 3.8 million would be delivered—500,000 in February and 700,000 in March.
However, this delivery was then impacted by vaccine shortages in Europe, which saw AstraZeneca told to reduce the number approved to export to Australia reduced to 250,000 after European Commission’s president Ursula von der Leyen told Morrison that the EU would need more time to consider the proposal.
The European Union then denied export to Australia of those 250,000 doses on March 3, reported German media outlet DW, after Italy—backed by the EC—blocked a shipment of 250,000 AstraZeneca jabs because the company did not fulfil the EU’s own contract to deliver 100 million doses of the vaccine ordered for the period from December to March.
The Vaccine Roadmap (pdf) notes that the Australian Government’s investment in COVID-19 vaccines exceeds $6 billion (US$4.6 billion). Included in this is the purchase agreements for 53.8 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine, a large proportion of which will be made in Australia following an approval by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) for Australian company CSL to manufacturer the AstraZeneca vaccine.
The European Union has faced scrutiny for the move with other countries accusing the bloc of vaccine nationalism.
However, the President of the European Council Charles Michel said this was not the case at all reported Reuters. He said that they only wish to stop companies from which we have “ordered and pre-financed doses from exporting them to other advanced countries when they have not delivered to us what was promised,” Michel said.
“The EU has never stopped exporting,” he said.
Vaccine Rollout Not Impacted Australian Government Says
On Wednesday, Professor Brendan Murphy assured Australia that these issues would not affect the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine.
“The point I want to make again is that our vaccine rollout is going well,” Murphy said.
“The only thing that is limiting the rollout is vaccine supply. And obviously, the initial issue with vaccine supply related to that 3.1 million doses of AstraZeneca which really put us back in those first weeks because we didn’t have those doses. Now that we do have the CSL doses, which are starting to increase progressively, that is the limiting step is the international supply of Pfizer and the amount that we’re getting out of CSL, which was progressively increasing,” he said.
The news of the vaccine delays comes as Australia recorded its first incident of a 44-year-old man being hospitalised for blood clots following an injection of the AstraZeneca vaccine.
Professor Michael Kidd, Acting Chief Medical Officer for the Australian Government Department of Health, said in an interview with ABC that the case was very concerning. Experts from the TGA were looking into the report.
Currently, twenty countries globally have suspended or delayed their AstraZeneca vaccinations rollout due to concerns over the links between the vaccine and blood clots in healthy people who received the jab.