UK markets close in 6 hours 54 minutes
  • FTSE 100

    6,887.98
    -1.14 (-0.02%)
     
  • FTSE 250

    22,196.15
    +42.60 (+0.19%)
     
  • AIM

    1,238.10
    +3.41 (+0.28%)
     
  • GBP/EUR

    1.1556
    +0.0025 (+0.22%)
     
  • GBP/USD

    1.3753
    +0.0011 (+0.08%)
     
  • BTC-GBP

    45,546.51
    +852.70 (+1.91%)
     
  • CMC Crypto 200

    1,325.44
    +30.86 (+2.38%)
     
  • S&P 500

    4,127.99
    -0.81 (-0.02%)
     
  • DOW

    33,745.40
    -55.20 (-0.16%)
     
  • CRUDE OIL

    59.86
    +0.16 (+0.27%)
     
  • GOLD FUTURES

    1,727.90
    -4.80 (-0.28%)
     
  • NIKKEI 225

    29,751.61
    +212.88 (+0.72%)
     
  • HANG SENG

    28,497.25
    +43.97 (+0.15%)
     
  • DAX

    15,254.26
    +39.26 (+0.26%)
     
  • CAC 40

    6,184.25
    +22.57 (+0.37%)
     

Germany voices concern over Italy's block of vaccine export to Australia

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
Daniel Boffey in Brussels
·5-min read
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
<span>Photograph: Antonio Masiello/Getty Images</span>
Photograph: Antonio Masiello/Getty Images

Germany has voiced concerns over the EU’s vaccine export ban, as Australia asked for a review of Italy’s decision to “tear up the rulebook” and block export of 250,000 doses of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine to its shores.

Jens Spahn, the German health minister, expressed caution over the long-term impact on global vaccine supplies after Italy’s move to reject the onward movement of doses, with the European commission’s backing.

“With a measure like that, in the short term there’s a win, but we have to be careful that it doesn’t cause us problems in the medium term by disrupting the supply chains for vaccines and everything that’s needed in terms of precursors,” Spahn said.

The Italian government rejected AstraZeneca’s request to export doses to Australia on the grounds that the Anglo-Swedish company was failing to fulfil its promises on deliveries to the EU.

The EU has been engaged in a high-profile row with the Anglo-Swedish pharmaceutical company since it informed officials of a shortfall in deliveries this quarter owing to a production problem at one of its EU sites.

A mechanism under which vaccine suppliers would need to gain authorisation for exports out of the EU was drawn up in January amid concerns that doses made in the bloc were being delivered to the UK.

The commission had said for weeks that the mechanism was primarily about transparency. But Ursula von der Leyen, the commission president, had privately assured the 27 EU heads of state and government at a summit last week that exports would be prevented in cases where suppliers were not fulfilling their contractual obligations.

On Friday, France’s health minister, Olivier Véran, said his government could follow suit, given the shortage of doses in Europe. But the move by Rome has alarmed those concerned that the EU is moving towards a protectionist approach to vaccine supply.

Australia’s trade minister, Dan Tehan, brought up the decision with his European commission counterpart, Valdis Dombrovskis, on Friday.

A commission spokesperson said the Australian government had been given an explanation. “Progress needs to be made on the deliveries to EU countries,” a commission spokesperson said.

Simon Birmingham, Australia’s finance minister, said: “The world is in uncharted territory at present, it’s unsurprising that some countries would tear up the rulebook.”

default

The Australian health minister, Greg Hunt, said his government had asked Brussels to review the ban.

Australia’s prime minister, Scott Morrison, played down the impact of Italy’s decision. “This particular shipment was not one we’d counted on for the rollout, and so we will continue unabated,” he said. “In Italy, people are dying at the rate of 300 a day. And so I can certainly understand the high level of anxiety that would exist in Italy and in many countries across Europe. They are in an unbridled crisis situation. That is not the situation in Australia.”

AstraZeneca has production sites in Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany and Italy. Australia has purchased 53m doses from the company, the first of which are due to be distributed this month. The vaccine has the advantage of being able to be kept in normal refrigerated conditions, rather than in freezers.

AstraZeneca had made deliveries to Italy last week that were about 10-15% smaller than expected. But the company said it would respect its commitment to supply the country with 4.2m doses in the first quarter of the year.

Related: Germany vaccine body says over-65s should get AstraZeneca jab

The Italian government had voiced concerns that the EU was not being stricter on exports, during the leaders’ summit.

Bernd Lange, the German MEP who chairs the European parliament’s trade committee, wrote on Twitter: “Pandora’s box opened. Mistake. Carte blanche for imitators. Could have fatal consequences, eg on supply chains. Prelude to global battle over Covid-19 vaccines? Escalation inevitable.”

The EU has approved 174 vaccine export requests to 30 countries since the authorisation scheme was brought into force, but it has been criticised for adding an extra layer of bureaucracy to production and distribution.

AstraZeneca was due to provide 120m doses of its vaccine to the EU in the first quarter of this year but was able to commit to only 40m owing to yield issues at its site in Belgium.

The commission had been furious that the company then refused to redirect doses made in its two UK plants, in Staffordshire and Oxford, to the EU.

default

Under its agreement with Oxford University, which devised the vaccine, the company said it was bound to use doses made in those sites in the UK first, before fulfilling its other orders.

The EU has a total order of 400m doses with AstraZeneca. Germany, France and Belgium are among EU countries that have in recent days changed their guidance on the vaccine to recommend it for all age groups.

Responding to suggestions from Von der Leyen and others that the UK has an export ban in place, a UK government spokesman said on Friday: “References to a UK export ban on vaccines are completely false. The UK government has not blocked the export of a single Covid vaccine … We have not put restrictions on exports of Covid-19 vaccines, or any medicines that have been manufactured and are intended for markets abroad.”

The UK is understood to have also experienced shortages on vaccine deliveries with just a third of anticipated doses now expected in the first quarter of this year.