By: Olivana Lathouris
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has denied criticising the European Union over Australia’s shortfall of COVID-19 vaccines but maintained the government was expecting an extra 3.1 million doses it never received.
“Any suggestion that I, in any way, made any criticism of the European Union yesterday would be completely incorrect,” Mr Morrison told reporters this morning.
“I simply stated a fact – that 3.1 million of the contracted vaccines that we had been relying upon in early January when we’d set out a series of targets did not turn up in Australia. That is just a simple fact.”
The EU has denied responsibility for the shortfall, with the chief spokesman for the European Commission telling a press conference there had been no “new decision to block vaccine exports to Australia”.
So far 920,334 doses have been administered, with Mr Morrison blaming “a supply problem” for Australia’s inability to hit its vaccine targets set earlier this year.
At a press conference, Mr Morrison described a timeline which he claims “sets out the facts” of the issue.
In September last year, Australia contracted AstraZeneca for 3.8 million doses to be delivered in January and February from the offshore manufactured product.
In late January, the EU introduced strict export controls which were further expanded on March 24.
In late January, AstraZeneca provided updated advice that only 1.2 million of the 3.2 million offshore manufactured product could be delivered in February and March.
That was because a range of issues, Mr Morrison said, which included not just the vaccine shortage in Europe but also AstraZeneca’s awareness of the increasing restrictions on export controls.
In February, AstraZeneca made an application was made for 500,000 doses to be released to Australia. Those 500,000 doses were being manufactured in Italy.
On February 20, AstraZeneca was advised by the European Commission to withdraw their application and submit a revised application for 250,000 doses, manufactured in Italy.
On March 3, the European Union denied export of those 250,000 doses to Australia.
Appearing on Today, Treasurer Josh Frydenberg backed the prime minister’s version of events.
“The Prime Minister was absolutely right. Those 3.1 million doses didn’t arrive,” Treasurer Josh Frydenberg told Today.
Mr Frydenberg said Australia has also requested one million doses of the vaccine to assist Papua New Guinea in fighting a second wave of COVID-19 which has also not received approval.
“We have a request for a million doses of AstraZeneca that were destined for Australia to go to Papua New Guinea in a humanitarian mission where there has been an outbreak,” he said.
“We are waiting on the Europeans to give us the approval for that.”
Australia’s own vaccine production by CSL in Melbourne has hit 1.3million doses.
The Health Minister said there will be at least three more batches rolled out in the next eight days.
Later this week, Mr Hunt said he expects 470,000 extra doses, then another 480,000 early next week.
The third batch is expected to be 670,000.
Meanwhile, Secretary of the Department of Health Professor Brendan Murphy said Australia was playing very close attention to concerns about a possible link between blood clots and the AstraZeneca vaccine.
“There has been some attention related to this issue with clots potentially associated with the AstraZeneca vaccine, and clearly, there’s been the reports of a possible case in Australia,” he said.
“One case is not a strong signal.”
He said the TGA was meeting regularly this week, and a joint meeting was scheduled for later this week with Europeans and UK regulators.
“We are taking this matter very seriously at the moment.”
He said “the benefit of vaccination outweighs any potential risk” and the government was continually reviewing the situation.
Professor Murphy insisted the vaccine rollout is “going well” but acknowledged concerns over supply.