The Italian government has blocked a shipment of AstraZeneca’s covid-19 vaccine to Australia in the first case of a country stopping vaccine exports in order to make sure it has enough for its domestic population. Italy consulted with the European Commission before halting the shipment of 250,000 vaccine doses, according to Australia’s ABC News and a spokesperson for the European Commission who didn’t wish to speak on the record early Friday.
The EU passed a new law in January that allows member countries to block vaccine exports in areas where the vaccine is being manufactured if their own citizens are not getting the desired number of shipments from a given manufacturer. Previously, the EU had threatened to block exports of the AstraZeneca vaccine being produced in Europe that were bound for the UK, but Europe as a whole has not followed through on that threat—at least against Britain.
Italy has administered just 4.7 million doses of covid-19 vaccine for a country of 60 million people, meaning just 7.9 per 100 people have been vaccinated, according to the New York Times. By contrast, the U.S. has vaccinated 24.3 per 100 people and the UK has vaccinated 32.5 per 100 people.
Italy’s Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio assured Australia that the blocked shipment wasn’t personal, writing on Facebook, “It is not a hostile act against Australia,” adding that Australia was a “non-vulnerable country.”
The incident will likely be a relatively minor inconvenience for Australia, which has fared exceptionally well during the pandemic, with just 909 deaths since the health crisis began last year. Australia has seen just 29,000 cases for a nation of roughly 25 million people and currently has no community spread of the virus. The only cases Australia records each day come from overseas where returning travelers have to stay in two weeks of mandatory hotel quarantine.
Australia has vaccinated just 0.2 per 100 people and this canceled shipment is surely not going to help matters. But, again, Australia has much less to worry about than countries like Italy and the U.S., where people are still dying from the coronavirus pandemic.
Australia’s Minister for Health, Greg Hunt, did not respond to a request for comment early Friday.