Desperate Italy Blocks Exports of Vaccines Bound for Australia

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Nevertheless, European governments have been scrambling for more doses. Some have gone ahead without the E.U. and procured Russian and Chinese vaccines; others are eyeing doses sold in a black, or at least gray, market.

The European Union has some additional leverage over the shipment of vaccines because Belgium, the seat of the bloc, is also home to some of the world’s most important vaccine factories, including ones making the Pfizer-BioNTech and AstraZeneca-Oxford shots. Italy, Germany and Spain are also home to facilities for several vaccine makers.

The doses blocked by Italy this week had been filled and finished there, though they were expected to be distributed throughout the E.U.

In a statement on Friday morning, Australia’s health minister, Greg Hunt, said his country had enough doses to “take us through” until domestic production begins later this month.

Australia has had fewer coronavirus cases, relative to its size, than almost any other large developed country, and has been recently averaging only nine new cases a day, according to a New York Times database. Italy is averaging more than 18,000 new cases a day, a pace that, adjusted for population is more than 800 times as high as Australia’s.

Still, the vaccine rollout has also been slow in Australia, which had planned to rely heavily on AstraZeneca. The country had signed a contract for 3.8 million AstraZeneca doses made in Europe, a stopgap until a manufacturer in Australia was able to get started on vaccine production.

In January, its expected delivery from Europe was cut to 1.2 million doses amid AstraZeneca’s production problems, despite lobbying efforts by Australia’s foreign minister, Marise Payne. Only one major delivery has arrived. As of February 28, only 33,702 doses had been administered nationwide, according to government figures.

“There is great prudence in us sourcing a number of vaccines but also starting domestic production as well,” said Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton.

Benjamin Mueller reported from London and Matina Stevis-Gridneff from Brussels. Emma Bubola contributed reporting from Rome, Monika Pronczuk from Brussels, and Damien Cave from Sydney.

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