The government has blocked the export to Australia of more than 250,000 Oxford-AstraZeneca Coronavirus vaccine doses amid a new surge of COVID-19 and an "unacceptable" shortage of vaccine in Italy and the EU, foreign minister Luigi Di Maio stated on Thursday.
"Distribution delays are unacceptable and we trust that our stance will have a positive effect on the vaccination campaign in Europe," Di Maio wrote on Facebook.
It is the first time that member country has used new EU regulations to stop vaccine doses from being exported if the manufacturer has not met its supply obligations to the bloc, Di Maio noted.
Italy halted exports of the vaccine as Australia is regarded as a “non-vulnerable” country, because vaccine doses are in short supply in Italy and the rest of the EU, and due to delays in AstraZeneca’s vaccine deliveries to the bloc’s member countries, Di Maio stated.
"We need clarity on vaccines. There are still too many delays in their supply in the European Union including Italy by certain pharmaceutical companies," Di Maio wrote.
US multinational Pfizer and AstraZeneca are the two companies currently manufacturing vaccines within the 27-member EU.
AstraZeneca angered EU officials in January when it said it would significantly cut its planned February and March deliveries to member nations. The EU officials accused the Anglo-Swedish company of sending doses to Britain that had been pledged to the EU - in breach of contractual obligations.
In a public statement, AstraZeneca said the drop in expected doses in February and March was caused by a lower than expected yield - the amount of vaccine that can be made from base ingredients.
AstraZeneca's cuts to its EU deliveries amount to a 60% reduction to 31 million vaccine doses through March according to EU officials. The company has since promised to supply 40 million doses to the EU over the period.