Italian PM urges EU to ‘suffocate’ AstraZeneca after row over vaccine supply as Australia outraged by move to block jabs

THE ITALIAN prime minister has urged the EU to “suffocate” AstraZeneca amid a furious row over coronavirus vaccine supply.

The EU blocked a shipment of 250,000 AstraZeneca jabs destined for Australia yesterday after sources claimed the drug manufacturer failed to meet its EU contract commitments.

Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi said it was necessary to ‘suffocate’ vaccine makers[/caption]
Getty Images - Getty
Italy has been taking a tough line in dealing with coronavirus vaccine shortages[/caption]

Italy told Brussels last week that under the EU’s vaccine export transparency regime, it was preventing the shipment.

It’s the first use of an export control system that was instituted by the bloc over a month ago – and paves the way for more countries missing out on their vital rollouts.

Speaking to Ursula von der Leyen yesterday, Italy’s new prime minister Mario Draghi said it was necessary to “suffocate” the vaccine makers to force them to meet their contractual obligations, according to Italian daily La Republicca. 

The 250,000 doses were to be sent to Australia from AstraZeneca’s Anagni plant near Rome.

Italy has been taking a tough line in dealing with vaccine shortages within the 27-nation bloc since a new government led by Draghi came into power last month.

Although the European Commission has power to object to Italy’s decision – it did not, officials said.

Speaking this morning, French Health Minister Olivier Veran said France, like Italy, could also block shipments of Covid vaccine.

Asked by BFM TV if France could follow Italy’s landmark decision, Veran said: “We could.”

The EU is well behind the UK when it comes to protecting people with Covid jabs

Australia has asked the European Commission to review Italy’s decision, but insisted the missing doses would not affect the country’s vaccine rollout.

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

“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.

On Thursday, Italy recorded nearly 23,000 new Covid cases and 339 deaths.

The country – which has recorded a total of 98,000 deaths and three million confirmed cases – was the first European nation to be hit hard by the pandemic last year.

In contrast, Australia has seen some 25,000 cases since the pandemic started and around 900 deaths in total.

AFP or licensors
Australia has received 300,000 AstraZeneca vaccine doses so far[/caption]
AFP or licensors
The EU has vaccinated just eight percent of its population – far less than the UK rate of more than 30 percent[/caption]

Australia has received 300,000 AstraZeneca vaccine doses so far – out of 53.8 million ordered – and the first jabs were given to frontline staff on Friday.

“It’s a feeling of excitement and relief that it’s finally here, that we’re prepared, we’ve got our staff trained, we’re ready to go,” hospital director of midwifery and nursing Sharon Harrison told Nine News.

The EU’s export control system for Covid vaccines ensures that companies respect their contractual obligations to the bloc before commercial exports can be approved elsewhere – including to Australia.

The bloc has taken the churlish action after being faced with shortages of doses during the early stages of the vaccine campaign that started in late December.

The EU has been specifically angry with AstraZeneca because it accuses the firm of delivering far fewer doses to the bloc than it had promised.

In January the firm cut its supplies to the EU in the first quarter to 40 million doses from the 90 million foreseen in its contract.

It later told EU states it would cut deliveries by another 50 percent in the second quarter.

EU nations are far behind their own vaccines target, but the UK is storming ahead

The company later said it was striving to supply missing doses for the second quarter from outside Europe.

The plant in Anagni is handling the final stage of the AstraZeneca production – the so-called fill and finishing of its Covid vaccine.

The site is owned by US group Catalent and is expected to handle hundreds of millions of AstraZeneca doses over the next 12 months.

The Anagni plant is also expected to help produce the vaccine developed by American drugmaker Johnson & Johnson.

The bloc’s vaccination programme is failing miserably and has vaccinated just eight percent of its population – far less than the UK rate of more than 30 percent.

Data shows some snail-pace European nations will not manage to jab the majority of adults until 2023 if they continue at their current rate.

Angela Merkel has been forced to extend lockdown by three weeks as Germany is finally set to approve AstraZeneca’s Covid jab for over-65s.

Berlin has been snubbing the life-saving vaccine – despite real-world results showing it is 94 per cent effective at reducing hospital admissions for coronavirus.

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