- The EU has blocked a shipment of COVID-19 vaccines bound for Australia.
- Officials confirmed to Insider that Italy decided to block the export of 250,000 AstraZeneca vaccines made in the country.
- Rome used EU powers introduced last month to limit the export of vaccines amid supply concerns.
- Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.
Italy has blocked a shipment of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine which was bound for Australia, in the first use of emergency powers the EU introduced last month to limit the export of vaccines amid concerns about their supply.
European officials confirmed to Insider that Italy last week decided to block the export of 250,000 AstraZeneca vaccines made in the country in a bid to shore up the EU’s own supplies of the vaccine.
Most European member states have struggled to launch effective vaccination campaigns and have fallen well behind the UK and the US in terms of vaccination rates.
Rome used powers introduced under the European Commission’s newly introduced vaccine exports authorization mechanism.
Mario Draghi, Italy’s new prime minister, has taken a tough line on Italy’s vaccination efforts, asking fellow EU leaders last month why the bloc was not imposing stricter measures on vaccine exports, the Financial Times reported.
The European Commission introduced the controversial vaccine export mechanism last month amid a row with AstraZeneca and the UK government over vaccine supply shortages.
European officials appeared to suspect that the British-headquartered drugs firm may have been diverting some of its EU-made vaccine supplies to the UK, which it said would have represented a breach of contract.
Under the scheme, member states to block the export of domestically made vaccines that are bound for other counties.
The Commission had the right to veto Italy’s decision if it disagreed with it but declined to, EU officials confirmed to Insider. The Financial Times reported that Italy notified Brussels of its decision last week.
The move risks significantly increasing already fraught global tensions around coronavirus vaccine supplies.
The International Chamber of Commerce said that the EU’s move risked increasing problems within the vaccine supply chain.
“While we understand the political pressures at play within Europe, blocking exports to meet domestic vaccination targets is a very dangerous card for policymakers to play,” said John Denton, the secretary-general of the International Chamber of Commerce.
“Vaccine manufacturing within the EU relies on an inherently global supply chain that – as we’ve repeatedly warned – is vulnerable to any escalation of retaliatory trade measures. These global production networks are already showing signs of severe strain, as demand for essential manufacturing inputs rises to unprecedented levels.”
“Simply put, using export curbs to get your hands on a few thousand doses of vaccines might yield an immediate political win at home but it comes with a potentially heavy price if European manufacturers find themselves unable to source the inputs needed to sustain – let alone – scale production,” he said.
“The horse may have already bolted, but it’s not too late for the European Commission to close the door on a further escalation on trade restrictions. It’s imperative that the export control regime introduced last month is taken off the statute book without delay.”
“Using trade restrictions is not a durable means to speed local immunization efforts. The challenge of getting vaccines to everyone, everywhere – without delay – will only be met through a collaborative global effort to scale manufacturing and speed distribution efforts. It’s not too late for governments to change course and avert the huge economic and social risks of a prolonged pandemic.”