Italy’s decision was not disclosed by the company’s global chief executive officer Pascal Soriot during a number of interviews he conducted with Australian media outlets on Thursday.
The first 300,000 doses of the Europe-manufactured Oxford University-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine landed on Australian soil last Sunday morning. Some 50 million AstraZeneca doses will be manufactured at a factory in Melbourne but 3.8 million will have to arrive from overseas, primarily Europe.
Australia is thought to be collateral damage in an ongoing war of words between European officials and AstraZeneca, a British-Swedish company. The European Union is unhappy that the company has not delivered the number of doses it expected.
Newly installed Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi criticised the export of vaccines during a recent meeting of EU leaders in late January.
However, millions of AstraZeneca doses have been put into storage across Europe because some citizens are refusing to take them.
French President Emmanuel Macron falsely called it “quasi ineffective” for the elderly, a comment which is widely seen as having caused huge damage to crucial public confidence in the jabs.
A string of nations in Europe earlier this year said the vaccine should not be given to over 65s, citing a lack of trial data. However, most are now reversing that decision given the vaccine is proving hugely successful in Britain.
The EU has previously described the export controls as a “transparency and authorisation mechanism”. The regulation underpinning the measure states it is not the intention of the EU to “restrict exports any more than absolutely necessary”.
The European Commission has also repeatedly denied the mechanism would represent an “export ban”.
Under the system, Pfizer and AstraZeneca have to ask countries where the vaccine was manufactured for approval before the jabs can be flown abroad.
If the country decides to reject the application, it must consult with the European Commission. The European Commission has the power to oppose the country’s decision but did not in the case of the shipment bound for Australia.
But the approach has prompted an outcry from a host of experts and officials who believe it represents a dangerous precedent in so-called “vaccine nationalism”.
It was also viewed as an attempt by the bloc to find a culprit for its trouble-plagued rollout, which is lagging well behind Britain’s.
AstraZeneca is manufacturing the vaccine in the Netherlands and Belgium, but uses partners in Germany and Italy to “fill” the medication into vials and package it.
What in the World
Bevan Shields is the Europe correspondent for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.