CANBERRA, AAP – The European Union has denied blocking shipments of 3.1 million doses of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine from going to Australia.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has blamed vaccine supply issues for the failure to meet his government’s jab targets.
Four million Australians were meant to be vaccinated by the end of March but only about 855,000 had received the jab by Monday.
The target was missed because of supply issues resulting from three million doses being blocked from leaving Europe for Australia, Mr Morrison said.
“Pure and simple,” he said on Tuesday.
Nationals deputy leader David Littleproud said Australia had been “badly let down” by the EU.
“The arithmetic is simple on this. We are three million short because of the EU, who cut us short,” he said.
But a European Commission spokesman said the only export request rejected out of nearly 500 received has been so far a shipment of 250,000 doses to Australia in March, which was well known.
“We cannot confirm any new decision to block vaccine exports to Australia or to any other country,” the spokesman told a news conference in Europe on Tuesday.
A European Commission spokeswoman told Reuters that while the bloc had rejected only one of 491 COVID-19 vaccine export requests since it enhanced export transparency in late January, seven requests were currently being reviewed – and therefore shipments were on hold until a decision was made.
She declined to say whether a new shipment to Australia was among those being reviewed.
But an EU official said there was no request for export to Australia under review, Reuters reported.
From January 30 to March 24, the EU exported one million doses to Australia, the commission said in a press release.
The EU has repeatedly said AstraZeneca may not be allowed to export from the EU until it fulfils its contractual obligations towards the bloc – a position that has led the company to refrain from submitting some export requests.
Mr Morrison previously said any hold up of vaccine imports would not impact Australia’s plan and is standing by his government’s rollout strategy.
He said more locally-made doses of the AstraZeneca would be available in the coming weeks, noting the need for batch testing before the doses are released.
“I don’t intend to rush the process and put people’s health at risk,” he said.
Meanwhile, the prime minister rejected Labor’s calls for mass vaccination sites, saying general practices are currently the best option for the early stages of the rollout which focuses on vulnerable people.
He also does not want to bring pharmacies into the rollout sooner than planned.
Labor health spokesman Mark Butler said a new strategy is needed.
He wants pharmacists involved in the rollout sooner after news they had been delayed by a month and would not start administering coronavirus jabs until June.
Meanwhile, Australians will be able to travel to New Zealand without needing to quarantine from April 19.
Kiwis have been able to travel to most Australian states quarantine-free for about six months.
Mr Morrison has hailed the travel bubble as an important step for the nations’ road out of the coronavirus pandemic.
NZ leader Jacinda Ardern announced a traffic light style system to guide Kiwis travelling to Australia.
“People will need to plan for the possibility of having travel disrupted if there is an outbreak,” Ms Ardern said.
Travellers will not be required to produce a negative test before travel but that may change in the case of outbreaks.