Macron threatens to join Italy in blocking AstraZeneca exports as ‘self-interested’ EU blasted for holding back vaccines

EMMANUEL Macron’s government has said it could follow Italy’s lead and block exports of AstraZeneca Covid jabs.

The EU has been accused of “bullying” and being “self-interested” after halting a shipment of 250,00 jabs to Australia in a landmark decision.

AFP
Emmanuel Macron’s government is threatening to follow Italy in blocking vaccine exports[/caption]
EPA
Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi said it was necessary to ‘suffocate’ vaccine makers[/caption]
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Italy has been taking a tough line in dealing with coronavirus vaccine shortages[/caption]

Italy is the first country to use 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.

Sources said the jabs were blocked from leaving AstraZeneca’s plant in Italy after the drug manufacturer failed to meet its EU contract commitments.

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

Macron’s health minister Olivier Veran said he understood the Italian government’s decision, adding “we could do the same thing”.

“We’ll see. The more doses France has, the happier I will be as health minister,” he told BFM TV.

“We believe in a European approach. France has the right to talk to its European neighbours to ensure that laboratories respect their commitments and contracts. That seems to me to be common sense.”

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

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

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

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.

“The decision by Italy and the European Union to block vaccine exports to Australia is a total disgrace,” Matthew Lesh, head of research at the Adam Smith Institute, told News.com.au

“A very clear demonstration of closed, self-interested and nationalistic behaviour. The world should not tolerate this bullying.

“Australia isn’t responsible for the European Union’s failure to secure enough doses or vaccinate across her population – Australia’s most vulnerable shouldn’t have to bear the consequences.”

Former Brexit Secretary David Davis also blasted the move as “disgraceful behaviour”.

He told The Telegraph: “I’m afraid the EU is putting at risk the goodwill of the rest of the world.

“It is disgraceful behaviour and sad, really, because they are our friends and allies.”

Australia said it 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.

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]

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

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.

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

The Italian foreign ministry said the batch was halted because of “continuing shortage of vaccines in the EU and in Italy and delays in supplies from AstraZeneca to the EU and Italy”.

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.

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

 

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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