The shock move means Australia might be waiting some time for 80,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine on order from Belgium which were set to arrive in the next few weeks.
Under the new rules announced overnight, the European Commission will stop or slow the rate of vaccine exports to shore up about 450 million doses for citizens living in the EU’s 27 member states.
The first round of Covid-19 vaccinations will be administered from 11 New South Wales hospitals from the end of February. Pictured: A woman receives a Covid vaccine in Finland
The first round of vaccines will go to healthcare, aged care and quarantine workers as well as those living in aged care and nursing homes. Pictured: Staff at Liverpool Hospital
It comes after the EU accused the UK of ‘hijacking’ 100 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine manufactured in Belgium and The Netherlands before it was available to European citizens.
Vaccine manufacturers will now have to gain approval before exporting batches from the Continent after politicians from member states raised concerns.
Dozens of countries outside the EU were exempt from the new controls but the UK and Australia were not.
Australia had arranged 3.8 million doses of AstraZeneca Oxford vaccine, produced in Belgium, but that figure has now been slashed to 1.2 million with growing uncertainty around the time frame of delivery.
10 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine have also been secured by Australia and are scheduled to arrive before the end of the year.
The first round of Covid-19 vaccinations in Australia is planned to be administered from the end of February with quarantine workers and aged care residents set to be among the first to get the Pfizer jab.
The EU’s health commissioner, Stella Kyriakides, (left) said today that vaccine export controls are not targeting any specific country, while Ursula von der Leyen, (right) the German president of the European Commission, said the EU’s deal with the pharmaceutical giant is ‘crystal clear’
According to the Department of Health the AstraZeneca vaccine is also ‘on track’ to roll out shortly after in March – despite German scientists warning it shouldn’t be given to patients over 65 – a claim disputed by UK medical authorities.
It remains uncertain what effect the new EU restrictions will have on the rollout.
Who gets Phase 1a vaccine first?
Quarantine and border workers – 70,000 doses
Frontline health care staff – 100,000 doses
Aged care and disability care workers – 318,000 doses
Aged care and disability care residents – 190,000 doses
Total initial doses of the Pfizer vaccine: 678,000
Foreign Minister Marise Payne and Health Minister Greg Hunt made frantic attempts to lobby the EU for an exemption to the export ban which was granted to countries such as Algeria, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Palestine, Syria, Tunisia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Israel, Moldova, Ukraine, Norway, Serbia, Switzerland and the Vatican City.
But their efforts were rebuffed.
‘We understand that the whole world has to deal with supply shortages,’ Mr Hunt said.
‘But the Foreign Minister has confirmed that Australia will be making representations through the World Health Organisation, and through Europe, with regards to ensuring vaccine supplies and certainty for Australia.’
The EU’s dramatic announcement follows a slowdown in vaccine production in recent weeks after manufacturing issues with both the Pfizer and AstraZeneca compounds.
As a result vaccination rates slowed across the EU – and in some countries they were brought to a screeching halt.
Pfizer had to cease operation at its factory in Belgium in order to make adjustments so it can increase its production capacity to 2 billion doses by the end of the year.
Meanwhile AstraZeneca has faced legal threats from various nations after flagging the proposed 80 million doses scheduled to ready for the EU in the first quarter will likely be cut to about 31 million.
Complications have arisen in growing the virus which has to be done inside human kidney cells in bioreactors.
The highly sensitive process can easily be disrupted by variations in temperature and oxygen levels.
Australian biomedical giant CSL has also encountered the same issues – as they prepare to start producing 50 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine in Melbourne.
‘Vaccine manufacture is highly complex, and it is not unusual to experience variations in yield levels in the initial product manufacturing runs — particularly for a new vaccine,’ CSL said in a statement.
‘In close consultations with AstraZeneca, we have leveraged our deep expertise in vaccine development and recombinant drug manufacture to optimise the AZD1222 manufacturing process and achieve higher yields for each batch.’
The company hopes to have doses ready for use across Australia by March.
A nurse prepares to administer a dose of the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine in Wales on January 4, 2021
CSL hope to have coronavirus doses ready for use in March. Pictured: Two women wearing face masks walk their dogs in Melbourne