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VACCINE

Italy blocks export of 250,000 AstraZeneca vaccine doses to Australia

Italy has blocked a shipment to Australia of AstraZeneca's Covid-19 vaccine under an EU export ban, amid a row over supply shortfalls.

Italy blocks export of 250,000 AstraZeneca vaccine doses to Australia
Photo: ANDER GILLENEA/AFP

Rome’s request to block the dispatch of the 250,000 doses was accepted by the European Commission on Thursday, in the first such use of an export ban under an EU vaccine monitoring scheme.

The move came amid an ongoing row between the EC and the pharmaceutical giant over a supply shortfall.

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The EC has fiercely criticised the Anglo-Swedish company this year for supplying just a fraction of the vaccine doses it had promised to deliver to the bloc.

Italy said the export ban was necessary due to a shortage of vaccines in Europe, where infections are currently rising again, and the lack of urgent need in relatively virus-free Australia.

Though the ban sparked accusations of “vaccine nationalism”, Australia’s prime minister on Friday pointed to the “large amount of vaccines” that have already left the European Union.

He insisted Italy’s request was understandable and would not affect Australia’s vaccine programme.

“This particular shipment was not one we’d counted on for the rollout, and so we will continue unabated,” PM Scott Morrison said.

The AstraZeneca vaccine up close. Photo: Fred SCHEIBER/AFP

Morrison expressed sympathy: “In Italy, people are dying at the rate of 300 a day. And so I can certainly understand the high level of anxiety that would exist in Italy and in many countries across Europe.”

“They are in an unbridled crisis situation. That is not the situation in Australia,” he added.

Australia’s chief medical officer, Paul Kelly, also offered solidarity: “My sister lives in Italy. They’re at the moment having 18,000 cases a day.”

READ ALSO: Lockdowns and vaccine scepticism – how France and Italy are struggling to get Covid under control

The doses came from a plant in Italy operated by AstraZeneca to produce some of its vaccine, one of three authorised for use in the EU alongside the BioNTech/Pfizer and Moderna versions.

Under the commission’s “transparency and authorisation mechanism” EU member states vet planned exports out of the bloc of authorised Covid-19 vaccines.

The scheme started on January 30th and is to run until at least the end of March. That period corresponds to the sharp shortfall in the first three months of this year of deliveries the EU had been counting on to kickstart its vaccine roll-out.

AstraZeneca has pledged “best reasonable efforts” to deliver around 100 million doses in that time, but is now on track to supply just 40 percent of that.

The Italian government’s decision, agreed with Brussels, is unprecedented in Europe.

Now the seized lot will be redistributed within the EU. The move is allowed under the Export Control Mechanism, launched by the European Commission. But it is the first time it has been activated by a member state.

The Export Mechanism was introduced precisely to prevent doses of vaccines under contract destined for EU countries from being resold to other nations and exported outside the continent.

During a phone call with Ursula von der Leyen, Italian Prime Minister, Mario Draghi, had reiterated on Thursday that it was necessary to put “asphyxiating” pressure on Big Pharma to force them to respect the agreed deliveries. If necessary, by blocking the export of those who do not observe the contractual terms.

After becoming prime minister last month, Draghi unveiled a new plan for Italy to administer 56 million vaccine doses by June.

The country has vaccinated 4.6 million people so far, with 1.5 million receiving both doses.

Member comments

  1. Myself like many others here in Australia, would think Italy needs the vaccine more than us, don’t understand the drama around the blocking.

  2. Myself like many others here in Australia tend to think Italy needs the vaccine more than us, so don’t understand what all the drama is about.

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TRAVEL NEWS

Covid face mask rule on flights in Europe set to be eased

The mandatory EU-wide mask requirement for air travel is set to be dropped from Monday, May 16th, but airlines may still require passengers to wear masks on some or all flights

Covid face mask rule on flights in Europe set to be eased

Europe-wide facemask rules on flights are set to be ditched as early as next week in light of new recommendations from health and air safety experts.

The European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) dropped recommendations for mandatory mask-wearing in airports and during flights in updated Covid-19 safety measures for travel issued on Wednesday, May 11th.

The new rules are expected to be rolled out from Monday, May 16th, but airlines may still continue to require the wearing of masks on some or all of flights. And the updated health safety measures still say that wearing a face mask remains one of the best ways to protect against the transmission of the virus.

The joint EASA/ECDC statement reminded travellers that masks may still be required on flights to destinations in certain countries that still require the wearing of masks on public transport and in transport hubs.

It also recommends that vulnerable passengers should continue to wear a face mask regardless of the rules, ideally an FFP2/N95/KN95 type mask which offers a higher level of protection than a standard surgical mask.

“From next week, face masks will no longer need to be mandatory in air travel in all cases, broadly aligning with the changing requirements of national authorities across Europe for public transport,” EASA executive director Patrick Ky said in the statement. 

“For passengers and air crews, this is a big step forward in the normalisation of air travel. Passengers should however behave responsibly and respect the choices of others around them. And a passenger who is coughing and sneezing should strongly consider wearing a face mask, for the reassurance of those seated nearby.”  

ECDC director Andrea Ammon added: “The development and continuous updates to the Aviation Health Safety Protocol in light of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic have given travellers and aviation personnel better knowledge of the risks of transmission of SARS-CoV-2 and its variants. 

“While risks do remain, we have seen that non-pharmaceutical interventions and vaccines have allowed our lives to begin to return to normal. 

“While mandatory mask-wearing in all situations is no longer recommended, it is important to be mindful that together with physical distancing and good hand hygiene it is one of the best methods of reducing transmission. 

“The rules and requirements of departure and destination states should be respected and applied consistently, and travel operators should take care to inform passengers of any required measures in a timely manner.”

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