Hundreds of thousands of doses of AstraZeneca vaccine have been secretly flown to Australia from Britain after the EU blocked exports to the country.
A total of 717,000 doses have been sent, but the source of the shipments was kept quiet to avoid any controversy in the United Kingdom, the Sydney Morning Herald reported on Thursday.
The first 300,000 British-made doses landed at Sydney airport on February 28 – a month after the European Commission adopted curbs on the export of vaccines produced in the EU, the newspaper said.
Another large batch arrived on an Emirates passenger plane in March, well after Italy and the European Commission formally blocked an application by AstraZeneca to ship 250,000 doses to Australia, it added.
The EU blocked a shipment of AstraZeneca vaccines from leaving Italy for Australia last month, drawing on controversial export laws for the first time. Pictured: The first shipment of AstraZeneca arriving in Australia on February 28
The paper cited an unidentified British official as saying the shipments to Australia were never at the expense of Britain’s vaccine rollout, one of the world’s swiftest.
So far, three in five adults in the UK have been given at least one dose of coronavirus vaccine since the program began in late December.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock did not deny that AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccines manufactured in the UK have been sent to Australia.
Mr Hancock told Sky News: ‘In terms of what the companies do, these companies are manufacturing for all around the world and we source from everywhere in the world, so what I’m in control of, what matters for us as the UK Government, is making sure that we get the supplies that we have got contracted from the companies.’
But he said the Government did not send the doses.
He said: ‘No, the British Government has a contract with seven companies now, but of course including AstraZeneca, for the delivery by AstraZeneca to the UK for us to deploy through the NHS, and that’s the bit I’m responsible for.’
A spokesman for Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison declined to comment. A second source said Australia was reluctant to confirm or deny the report.
‘For reasons of supply chain integrity and national security, we do not advise the origins of particular vaccine shipments,’ said the source, who sought anonymity in the absence of authority to speak on the matter.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock (pictured speaking to Sky News) did not deny that AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccines manufactured in the UK have been sent to Australia
The news of the shipment from the UK comes as concerns continue to be raised about the safety of the AstraZeneca vaccine, and as Australia considers banning the AstraZeneca vaccine from being given to people under 30 in line with British recommendations.
British regulators said young people should be offered alternative vaccines while experts investigate its link to rare blood clots.
Most Australians were to receive the AstraZeneca vaccine with the government securing 53.8 million doses, including 50 million to be manufactured locally.
The jab was declared safe by the Therapeutic Goods Administration and is an integral part of the nation’s slow-moving vaccine rollout – meaning there is no sure-fire way to demand another vaccine.
Last month, the EU was branded a ‘total disgrace’ and a ‘bully’ after it blocked the 250,000-dose shipment of AstraZeneca to down under.
Authorities in Italy used controversial export laws to block the shipment, refusing to grant a licence for the doses manufactured in the country to be exported.
Authorities in Italy used controversial export laws to block the shipment, refusing to grant a licence for the doses manufactured in the country to be exported. It came as the 27 member bloc’s own disastrous jab programme left its leaders – such as President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen (pictured March 25) – red faced
Officials in Rome informed the EU of its intention to act last week and Brussels did not object to the move.
The batch was halted because of ‘continuing shortage of vaccines in the EU and in Italy and delays in supplies from AstraZeneca to the EU and Italy,’ the Italian foreign ministry said in a statement at the time.
Italy also argued Australia is not a high-risk country, with low case and death numbers, in stark contrast to countries overwhelmed by the pandemic.
The move came amid a row over vaccines leaving the EU to other nations, including the UK, while the 27 member bloc’s own disastrous jab programme left its leaders – such as President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen – red faced.
The decision led to anger from commentators worldwide, with critics accusing the EU of punishing Australia due to their own management failures during the pandemic.