EU defends Italy’s coronavirus vaccine blockade as ‘exceptional case’

EU defends Italy’s coronavirus vaccine blockade as ‘exceptional case’
Credit: Belga

The European Commission has defended the Italian authorities’ decision to stop the shipment of AstraZeneca vaccines against the coronavirus to Australia, saying the ban was an exceptional case.

Last Friday, the vaccine manufacturer was ready to send around 250,000 doses from Italy to Australia when Italy refused to let the shipment go, a decision which the European Commission supported.

"There has been no other rejection under the export control mechanism (...), and the EU remains a major exporter of vaccines," a spokesperson for the EU executive said.

Italy cited a"persistent shortage" and "delays in supply" from the laboratory as a reason for the ban, of which the doses will be distributed among the 27 EU Member States.

The Australian government has since expressed its understanding of the situation, referring to the severity of the pandemic in Italy, which is recording much higher figures than on the island.

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However, the supply of doses is not the only bottleneck in the rollout process of vaccines, according to Ho-Yin Mak, Associate Professor in Management Science at Saïd Business School, University of Oxford, who specialises in operations management and planning.

“In this particular case, Italy has reportedly received 1.5 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine and administered only 323,000 of them. It is apparent that other bottlenecks exist in the system,” said Mak, adding that without addressing these, simply securing extra supplies will not help the vaccine reach people’s arms quickly.

He said countries must optimise the distribution of vaccines and push acceptance of vaccines when different brands are on offer, specifically referring to the hesitation around the AstraZeneca vaccine, for which he said leaders must take concrete steps to tackle it.

Since the beginning of this year, 174 requests for exports of vaccines were approved by the EU to some 30 countries, including in the US, Latin American, and Middle Eastern countries, the spokesperson said.

It was the first time that a member state blocked a delivery via the export control mechanism for EU-produced covid vaccines, first created in January, at which time it said it could also stop “unjustified” vaccine deliveries.

European Commission Vice-President Valdis Dombrovskis stressed the "systematic inadequacies" of AstraZeneca's deliveries to the union in a meeting on Friday with Australian Trade Minister Dan Tehan, according to La Libre.

The European Commission has previously accused the manufacturer of not respecting the terms of its European contract, as it has been delaying and decreasing promised deliveries.

Lauren Walker

The Brussels Times

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