UNITED KINGDOM. London: The government of Italy has blocked the shipment of 250,000 doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine to Australia on Thursday. These doses were manufactured in a plant owned by U.S. group Catalent in Anagni, near Rome.
Italy made the request and the European Commission signed it off under a new export control system that came into law on Jan. 30.
The doses will be redistributed within the EU, “where about 8% of the population has been vaccinated, compared with more than 30% in the U.K,” according to Sky News.
Italy’s decision came after the British-Swedish drug manufacturer had failed to fulfill its contract with the European Union (EU).
The new control system
The bloc issued the new control system a month ago to fight the shortage of COVID-19 vaccine doses.
The EU hoped that the mechanism could force drug manufactures to respect their contracts with the bloc before exporting the vaccines anywhere else.
The EU has approved about 150 requests for the export of vaccines since the new mechanism came into force; Italy has been the first country to reject such request, The Guardian reported.
The Italian government’s move comes in response to an existing row between the EU and AstraZeneca.
The drug manufacturer announced in January that they couldn’t fulfill their 120m doses contract with the EU due to a vaccine shortage caused by production problems in Europe. The company was able to only commit to 40m doses – just a quarter of the doses initially agreed – and refused to redirect the jabs made in two plants in the U.K. to the EU.
AstraZeneca has an agreement with Oxford University, and it was bound to use doses made in Staffordshire and Oxford in the U.K. before satisfying other orders.
An EU diplomat told The Guardian, “Italy has sent a crystal clear message to AstraZeneca: Contracts are to be honored. AstraZeneca’s vaccine delivery to the EU will fall short by more than 60 million doses in the first quarter of 2021 alone putting at risk the lives of 30 million EU citizens. Being in this situation, not making up for it, not even offering excuses to the people they have led down and then asking for an export authorisation is a very brazen move. Italy rightly stopped it.”
Italian journalist based in the UK. I trained at City, University of London and I write about the environment, Italian politics and current affairs with a focus on the EU.