Italy and EU block the shipment of over a quarter-million AstraZeneca COVID – 19 vaccines to Australia :
To ensure that the big pharma companies would respect their contracts, Italy has recently initiated an action. The move was to block the shipment of more than a quarter-million doses of AstraZeneca COVID – 19 vaccines to Australia. These vaccines are being shipped from the European Union ( EU ), and the EU has not raised any objections in this regard. The export control system instituted by the bloc initiated it the first time.
This move results from the frustration of the 27 – nation EU bloc due to the vaccine’s slow rollout. The shortfall of the promised vaccine deliveries by AstraZeneca has resulted in the bloc taking such measures. The EU has also not raised any objections to Rome’s tougher line to deal with vaccine shortages in the bloc. This new tactic was put forth since a new government led by Mario Draghi came into power on 13 February 2021. 
The background story
On 5 March 2021, the Australian Prime Minister stated that they anticipated these veto problems from the EU shipments. He further added that this would not affect the vaccination schedule, which would continue as planned. Australia has already secured supplies, and the additional supplies for importation from Pfizer and AstraZeneca are also available.
He also claimed that the program’s rollout would occur as scheduled as Australia’s situation is controlled. Since Australia was domestically producing vaccines, it has sovereignty over its vaccination program.
The general shortage of vaccine supplies in the EU coupled with a delay in the vaccine supply to the EU and Italy led to Italy’s objections. Another reason for its intervention was the size of the shipment. As Australia is not a vulnerable nation, the shipment of over 250,700 doses from the EU perplexed Italy, forcing the country to intervene. The pharma company was informed of this matter on 2 March 2021 by Italy, but the company refused to comment. This matter came to light at the end of 4 March 2021.
Shortages of doses in the early stages of the vaccination campaign were faced by the EU when it started in late December 2020. This EU set up an export control system for COVID – 19 vaccination in late January 2021. This system strives to force the companies to adhere to the bloc’s contractual obligations before approving the commercial exports.
Why did Italy and the EU contemplate blocking AstraZeneca vaccines?
The EU has expressed anger and dissatisfaction with AstraZeneca over the delay in vaccine supply. The EU bloc mentions that the company has delivered fewer in number than the promised doses. The pharma company is yet to deliver the initial order of 80 million doses to the EU scheduled for the first quarter of 2021. It has been struggling to deliver just half of this quantity to the EU.
Rumors of the company shipping the vaccines from the EU production plants to other nations were claimed baseless by the pharma company’s CEO. He clarified that these difficulties are due to technical production issues alone.
Unlike the United Kingdom that has vaccinated over 30 % of its population to date, the EU has been able to vaccinate only 8 % of its population. Australia, however, is still in the starting stages of its vaccination drive.
The current bar on shipment has put immense pressure on the EU. While it is too pressured to ramp up the production, it also does not want to lose its status as an attractive hub for pharmaceutical giants. Apart from this, the EU also wants to retain itself as a fair trading partner to third countries.
EU block AstraZeneca vaccines: Events so far
In the beginning, the EU had believed to have made a well–thought–out a plan regarding the rollout of the vaccines. The bloc did it through heavy funding of the research and production capacity throughout 2020. EU had signed vaccine deals with six different vaccines as its population is over 450 million. Accordingly, it had ordered around 400 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine. It had also struck agreements with other pharma companies for another 2 billion shots. Despite the current circumstances, the EU still believes that it can vaccinate around 70 % of the adult population by 2021.
Abbreviation: 1. Chief Executive Officer
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