Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Wednesday blamed problems with vaccine delivery by the European Union for the delay in the vaccination campaign in Australia, which has attracted growing criticism from the opposition.
Conservative leader cited vaccine shortage and EU “strict export controls” to explain why his country only received 700,000 doses of an order for 3.8 million vials of the Oxford / AstraZeneca vaccine.
Australia has done quite well in containing the spread of the coronavirus on its soil, but it is lagging behind in its vaccination program.
The Australian government had initially committed to administering four million doses by the end of March. But on Wednesday, the total vaccines injected were only 920,000, earning Mr Morrison criticism he tried to respond to at a hastily organized press conference.
“3.1 million vaccines have not reached Australia,” he said. “There is no argument, conflict, quarrel or clash. It is a simple observation.”
Australia, he explained, has received 870,000 doses of the Pfizer / BioNTech vaccine which are being administered to frontline workers.
The authorities rely mainly on imports of AstraZeneca vaccines and locally manufactured doses to treat their population.
But a controversy arose in early March when Italy announced that it had blocked the export to Australia of 250,000 doses of AstraZeneca vaccine, arguing a “persistent shortage” and “supply delays” on its soil.
Some are worried that the slowness of vaccination in Australia favors the appearance of new sources of contamination and indefinitely delays the reopening of borders.
Several months ago, Mr. Morrison said Australia would be “at the front of the line” to get the vaccines, after agreements reached with AstraZeneca, Pfizer and Novavax.
“Scott Morrison must stop pretending that there is no emergency. Vaccination is our ticket to a return to normalcy,” Labor opposition leader Anthony Albanese said. “The government has to move.”
Populated by 25 million inhabitants, Australia has totaled at this stage since the start of the pandemic around 30,000 cases of coronavirus.