India — Italy has decided to block thousands of doses of the vaccine developed by Oxford University-AstraZeneca against the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) to Australia. The country is not only the first country in Europe to do so but also the first in the world that has refused the export of Covid-19 vaccines to another nation. The refusal was possible because of the vaccine export control measure taken by the European Union earlier this year.
Worried about the Covid vaccine supply, the 27-nation bloc had taken vaccine export control measures that drove criticism from the World Health Organization (WHO). The global health body has been programming the COVAX initiative for the equitable access of vaccines to all. Italy has reported more than 2.9 million coronavirus cases and 99,000 deaths, as per Johns Hopkins University’s tracker.
Here is what has happened:
1. Italy has decided to block the 250,000 Oxford-AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine doses to Australia. This is the first refusal to vaccine export after the EU introduced the vaccination supply measures overseas on January 29. France has also come forward in support of the decision.
2. Due to the delivery shortfall the EU has brought in export control measures that authorises its members to deny vaccine exports.
3. The refusal to Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine export comes after the Anglo-Swedish company said it will only be able to supply 40 million doses of the vaccine in contrast to the 90-100 million doses marked in the contract. The vaccine delays from the company have prompted such measures.
4. In August 2020, the EU had signed a deal with Oxford-AstraZeneca for the supply of 400 million Covid-19 vaccines but earlier this year, the company reported production delays in its plant in Netherlands and Belgium. Pfizer vaccine supplies have also declined due to production issues.
5. EU health commissioner Stella Kyriakides had even demanded the company to meet the promised vaccine supply through the UK factories.
6. Australia on the other hand while asking the European Commission to review the refusal of vaccine export has said that it understands Italy’s approach. “In Italy, people are dying at the rate of 300 a day. And so I can certainly understand the high level of anxiety that would exist in Italy and in many countries across Europe,” Reuters quoted Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison as saying.
6. AstraZeneca’s chief executive officer Pascal Soriot said that the contract mentions ‘our best efforts’ on the allegations made by the EU that it is backtracking from its deal. He had also indicated that Europe might have signed the vaccine supply deal a little late in comparison to the UK. “Europe at the time wanted to be supplied more or less at the same time as the UK, even though the contract was signed three months later,” Bloomberg quoted Soriot as saying.
7. The EU vaccine row comes as the bloc is under pressure to do better in inoculating since the European nations were hit hard by the coronavirus disease. While the vaccination drive in Europe had begun in December last year, the pace of the inoculation is very slow in comparison to its old member Britain and other developed countries.