Australia in war of words with EU over vaccine shipments

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Last week, the Morrison government’s attempt to shift the blame for Australia’s slow vaccine rollout back to the states backfired badly, and this week’s bid to blame the European Union (EU) appears to have fared little better.

The federal government has come under heavy criticism for failing to meet its vaccine targets, with four million Australians meant to have been vaccinated by the end of March.

During Tuesday’s press conference to discuss the opening of the trans-Tasman travel bubble with New Zealand, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Australia’s vaccine problem was supply related.

“There was over three million doses from overseas that were contracted that never came,” Mr Morrison said. “And that’s obviously resulted in an inability to get three million other doses out and distributed through the network.

“I think it is really important that these points are made very clearly when we are talking about the rollout of the vaccine.”

Read more: States hit back at PM over ‘misleading’ vaccine rollout

Overnight, the EU denied blocking shipments of 3.1 million doses for Australia.

EU Commission spokesperson Eric Mamer told a news conference in Europe that the only export request rejected out of nearly 500 received was a shipment of 250,000 doses to Australia in March.

“We cannot confirm any new decision to block vaccine exports to Australia or to any other country,” Mr Mamer said.

Read more: When will you get the vaccine?

In a press conference on Wednesday morning, Mr Morrison attempted to downplay his criticism of the EU and was hopeful of seeing an increase in the supply of vaccine doses from Europe.

“I want to stress that at no time yesterday did I make any comment about the actions of the European Union, nor did I indicate any of the background reasons for the lack of supply that we have received from those contracted doses,” Mr Morrison said.

“Any suggestion that I, in any way, made any criticism of the European Union yesterday would be completely incorrect.

Read more: Vaccine availability for over-70s

“I simply stated a fact – that 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. That is just a simple fact.”

Mr Morrison also explained that Australia’s vaccination rollout would now speed up significantly with more than 800,000 domestic doses of the vaccine being produced every week.

The federal secretary of the health department, Professor Brendan Murphy, who was also present at Wednesday’s press conference, moved to allay fears that the AstraZeneca vaccine was linked with a blood-clotting problem.

The issue came to the fore on the weekend when Australia’s deputy chief medical officer, Professor Michael Kidd, said that the hospitalisation of a 44-year-old Melbourne man with blood clots was likely to be linked with the AstraZeneca vaccine.

“One case is not a strong signal, but we are working very closely with our counterparts in the UK who have now done well over 18 million doses of this vaccine, and in Europe, that have done many millions, to look at the data they are getting,” Prof. Murphy said.

“That’s what’s going to give us the true picture of whether this is a real problem, and whether it has any significance.

“Europe has better data and that’s why we’re looking at their data to see whether this is a real problem and whether we need to do anything about it.”

Are you disappointed with the pace of the vaccine rollout in Australia? Have you had your first shot yet? Have you booked in a date to receive your vaccination?

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Written by Ben



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