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Explained: Why has Italy blocked shipment of COVID-19 vaccine doses to Australia?

Currently, Australia is lagging behind its target of administering at least 60,000 doses of the vaccine by the end of February.

Written by Mehr Gill , Edited by Explained Desk |
Updated: March 13, 2021 6:26:33 pm
Express Explained, Explained Health, Covid-19This photograph released by UNICEF Wednesday Feb. 24, 2021, shows the first shipment of COVID-19 vaccines distributed by the COVAX Facility arriving at the Kotoka International Airport in Accra, Ghana. (Francis Kokoroko/UNICEF via AP)

Italy has blocked a shipment of over 250,000 doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine to Australia. Australia has asked the European Commission (EC) to review this decision, while the country’s Health Minister Greg Hunt has said that the move will not slow down the pace of vaccine rollout in Australia.

COVID-19 in Australia and vaccine rollout around the world

Currently, Australia is lagging behind its target of administering at least 60,000 doses of the vaccine by the end of February. As per ABC news Australia, on March 1, about 53 percent of the doses allocated for the first week of the vaccine rollout were administered. The country has recorded only about 29,000 cases of COVID-19, which is about 116 cases per 100,000 people. At the moment, India records about 830 cases for every 100,000 people and the US, which has the highest cases of COVID-19 in the world is at 8,701 cases per 100,000 people.

As per the Financial Times’ vaccine-rollout tracker, around the world, Israel is leading with the most number of doses administered per 100 people. The country has administered at least one vaccine dose to more than 90 people out of a 100. UAE comes second with about 63 doses given per 100 people. India has given about 1.2 doses per 100 people and the US has given roughly 23 doses. But the US leads when it comes to the total number of doses given, which is at nearly 80 million doses administered across its adult population as of March 3.

Last week, Ghana became the first country in the world to receive the shipment of vaccines under the COVAX program. About 600,000 doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine manufactured by the Serum Institute of India (SII) in Pune (the largest vaccine manufacturer in the world) were sent to Accra in Ghana on February 23.

The AstraZeneca vaccine (known as Covishield in India) was given Emergency Use Listing (EUL) by the WHO this month. AstraZeneca and SII will together work with the COVAX facility to begin supplying the vaccine globally. The COVAX program plans to vaccinate roughly 20 percent of the population of 92 Advance Market Commitment (AMC) countries, which include middle and lower-income countries that cannot afford to pay for COVID-19 vaccines themselves.

What is the EU’s vaccine strategy?

In the European Union (EU), the EC enters into Advanced Purchase Agreements on behalf of the member states. Under these agreements, the commission pays a part of the upfront cost faced by vaccine producers and in return expects to buy a specified number of vaccine doses in a given timeframe. As of now the European Medicines Agency has approved the use of three vaccines including Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna and Oxford-AstraZeneca.

Why has Italy blocked the export?

Under the EU’s vaccine monitoring scheme, a member state can stop the export of vaccines if it anticipates a supply shortage. Italy is the first member state of the EU to make use of this provision. The decision has come after Oxford-AstraZeneca announced a 60 percent cut in its doses meant for the EU because it is facing problems in production.

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Apart from Oxford-AstraZeneca, the delivery of Pfizer vaccines to the EU has also been slow because the manufacturer is tweaking its production process in an effort to increase the output.

Significantly, the EU has faced criticism for its slow vaccine rollout. The BBC reported recently, that the bloc will receive only a quarter of the 100 million doses it expected from AstraZeneca by the end of March.

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