France joins Italy and warns it could block AstraZeneca exports – EU circles wagons

Vaccine: ‘Extra’ EU supply should come to Ireland says Murphy

French Health Minister Olivier Veran said on Friday that France could block shipments of COVID-19 vaccines to non-EU countries, similar to moves on this front by Italy. Asked by BFM TV if France could follow Italy’s move on this, Mr Veran replied: “We could”.

The move would follow Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi’s decision to block a shipment of AstraZeneca vaccines to Australia on Thursday.

Mr Draghi, supported by the European Commission, barred the planned export of around 250,000 doses of AstraZeneca’s vaccine after the drug manufacturer failed to meet its European Union contract commitments.

Australia has since asked the Commission to review the decision, while stressing on Friday the missing doses would not affect the rollout of Australia’s inoculation programme.

Australian Health Minister Greg Hunt told reporters in Melbourne: “Australia has raised the issue with the European Commission through multiple channels, and in particular we have asked the European Commission to review this decision.”

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EU news: Olivier Veran said France could block vaccine exports (Image: GETTY)

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EU news: Italy blocked a shipment of AstraZeneca jabs to Australia (Image: GETTY)

Mr Hunt said Australia had already received 300,000 doses of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine, which would last until local production of the vaccine ramps up.

Australia began its inoculation programme two weeks ago, vaccinating frontline health staff and senior citizens with Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine though doses of that vaccine are limited amid tight global supplies.

While seeking the European Commission’s intervention, Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison said he could understand reasons for Italy’s objection.

He 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.”

READ MORE: EU on brink as Ireland urges Macron and Merkel to give up vaccines

Mr Draghi, who took office last month, had told fellow EU leaders that the bloc needed to speed up vaccinations and crackdown on pharma companies that failed to deliver on promised supplies.

EU countries started inoculations at the end of December, but are moving at a far slower pace than many other nations, with officials blaming the slow progress in part on supply problems with key manufacturers.

Australian officials on Friday administered the first dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine, to a doctor.

Australia has ordered 53.8 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine, which was developed in conjunction with the University of Oxford. Local pharmaceutical company CSL Ltd has secured the rights to manufacture 50 million of those doses in Australia and expects to release the first batch near the end of March.

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EU news: Draghi had told fellow EU leaders that the bloc needed to speed up vaccinations (Image: GETTY)

The locally produced doses will provide the backbone of Australia’s inoculation programme, which officials hope to complete by October.

Australia is under less pressure than many other countries, having recorded just under 29,000 COVID-19 cases and 909 deaths.

The lower infection and death tallies have been helped by strict lockdowns, speedy tracking systems and border closures.

In the EU, leaders are growing tired of the inefficiency of the Commission’s vaccination strategy. 

Austria and Denmark made an agreement with Israel on Thursday for the procurement and production of vaccines away from the bloc’s official programme. 

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Coronavirus vaccine doses administered in the world as of March 3 (Image: EXPRESS)

Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz and his Danish counterpart Mette Frederiksen met Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Israel on Thursday to launch a partnership for second-generation vaccines, covering both production and research.

Mr Kurz said the European Medicines Agency (EMA) was “too slow” to approve vaccines and it was no longer possible to “depend only on the EU” for second-generation vaccines intended for faced with the multiple mutations of the virus.

After the meeting, Mr Netanyahu announced the pact between the three nations.

Speaking at a joint conference, he said: “Once we get over this cycle of the disease we have no guarantee that it won’t come back.

“We don’t know how long – nobody knows – how long these vaccines will hold up.

“And therefore we have to protect our people against the reemergence of this pandemic or mutations.”

Kurz said he was “very happy” about an EU vaccine initiative “but we also need to cooperate worldwide”.

Four other EU countries, Hungary, Slovakia, Poland and the Czech Republic, have opted for Russian and Chinese vaccines without any European coordination.

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