The European Union has denied blocking shipments of 3.1 million doses of AstraZenecas Covid-19 vaccine to Australia, refuting Scott Morrisons’ claims that international supply issues were to blame for the loss of use targets.
At a news conference Tuesday after New Zealand announced a trans-Tasman travel bubble, the prime minister said Australia had not received 3.1 million doses of AstraZeneca from abroad. He said it was to blame for the massive mismatch between the 855,000 vaccines administered so far and the missed target of 4 million doses by the end of March.
The federal government is under criticism for the slow pace of proliferation and lack of transparency about how many doses are produced locally and administered.
An Australian government source told Reuters on Tuesday that the European Union had blocked the export of 3.1 million doses of AstraZeneca and that Australia had little hope of getting the remaining 400,000 doses that had been promised in time.
They blocked 3.1 million shots so far we have not given up hope but have stopped counting them in our expected supplies, the source said.
But a European Commission spokesman said the only export request rejected by nearly 500 received has so far been a shipment of 250,000 doses to Australia in March, which is well known.
“We cannot confirm any new decision to block vaccine exports to Australia or any other country,” the spokesman told a news conference in Europe on Tuesday.
Nationals Vice President David Littleproud said Monday that Australia had been badly weakened by the EU. The arithmetic is simple for that, he told Nine Network. We are 3m [doses] short because of the EU that cut us short.
Morrison promised Tuesday to increase the number of GPs administering the vaccines from 1,500 to 4,000 but declined to say how many doses of AstraZeneca CSL vaccine he was producing in Melbourne each week.
Morrison told reporters in Canberra that it would be deceptive to provide an average. At its fastest pace, the company had reached around 800,000 [per week] sign, said the Prime Minister. We want to keep achieving that if we can do better, we will.
Earlier, health officials said they expected 1 million doses made locally to be available per week. Morrison claimed in March that CSL already produced more than 900,000 shots per week.
In response to a news.com.au report that about 2.5 million doses of CSL were being held from testing, Morrison said there had been no ban because approval by the Therapeutic Goods Administration and group testing was a necessary part of the process to ensure Australian safety.
It is very important that people understand [that] the filling and finishing process does not involve the small vial that comes out of the production line and then goes straight to the courier and GP or hospital, the Liberal leader said.
Morrison refused to set a new vaccination target by the end of April and tried to explain the missing $ 4 million target by blaming the frustrated supply and non-delivery of vaccines. The simple explanation is that 3.1 million vaccines have never arrived in Australia, he said.
Health department secretary Prof Brendan Murphy offered the same explanation in mid-March when the government departed from its commitment to fully vaccinate all Australians by October.
But on March 5, after Italy blocked 250,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine, federal health minister Greg Hunt was eager to minimize the impact of overseas supply issues on the spread.
Hunt said that at a time when Australia’s forecasts ahead did not include this particular shipment of a series of doses from one country, from a firm which has a broad and wide global supply chain.
Morrison said Tuesday that the government was providing weekly statistics on the number of vaccines administered, but there is no reason why those figures could not be made on a more regular basis.
It is a good idea for us to have more data transparency on these issues and that is what we will discuss with the prime ministers and prime ministers on Friday, he said.
Morrison defended the extension by noting 79,000 vaccines were administered in one day last week which he claimed was actually better than where New Zealand, Germany, South Korea and Japan were at the same point in their programs.
Australia’s ambitious proliferation requires it to administer at least 180,000 vaccines a day a curve that has only become steeper due to slow start.
Opposition health spokesman Mark Butler said Tuesday that the exit was so far behind every single commitment Scott Morrison and Greg Hunt had made to the Australian people. Surely, they have to admit that this is not going well, Butler told reporters. They need to accept this, bring people around the table, and adjust their strategy.
Butler proposed allowing pharmacists to administer vaccines faster than planned and taking into account the mass vaccination centers of the type you see in other countries.
But Morrison said the available vaccines matched the current distribution network and without further doses, the mass vaccination centers would make no change in the rate of use. There was never a plan for pharmacists to be included in the vaccination program at this point, he said.
Morrison said the early stages of distribution focused on vulnerable populations who would receive vaccines from their GPs, and pharmacists would administer doses by mid-year.
A CSL spokesman said the company was committed to providing the Australian government with the doses needed to meet its Covid-19 vaccination strategy.
In the first week of the local spread, 832,000 doses were released ahead of schedule for the Australian government, the spokesman said.
Further batches of completed doses are now being released each week. When approved by the TGA, they are submitted to the national network of vaccination centers and GP clinics. CSL hopes to achieve a circulating production of 1 million doses per week as soon as possible.
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