SYDNEY: As Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison faces public anger over sluggish vaccine rollout, he shifted the blame on the EU, saying limited vaccine supply from Europe caused an obstacle in the country’s coronavirus inoculation efforts.
Scott Morrison said vaccine shortages and “strict export controls” introduced by the European Commission meant Australia received only 700,000 of the contracted 3.8 million doses of the Oxford / AstraZeneca vaccine.
His government, which received global praise for successfully containing Australia’s coronavirus outbreak, has fallen far behind with its vaccine rollout plan.
It had originally committed to administering four million doses by the end of March, but had instead managed around 920,000 shots by Wednesday – creating growing criticism, which Morrison tried to address at a rapidly organized press conference.
“3.1 million vaccines did not arrive in Australia – it’s just a simple fact,” he said.
“It’s not a dispute. It’s not a conflict. It’s not an argument. It’s not a clash. It’s just a simple fact.”
Australia has received around 870,000 doses of the Pfizer / BioNTech vaccine, which it administers to frontline workers.
Authorities had counted on imported and locally made AstraZeneca shots to cover most of the population.
But problems arose last month when Italy blocked the export of 250,000 doses of AstraZeneca as it struggled to cope with a severe coronavirus crisis at home – a delay that Morrison’s government insisted would not affect its overall vaccine rollout plan .
‘Our ticket back to normal’
A broader debate across Europe on whether to export vaccines when EU countries are struggling to contain the virus has also stopped supplies.
Morrison said Wednesday that he had been reassured by statements from EU officials overnight that AstraZeneca export requests were being processed.
He said he was also still awaiting an EU response to an urgent request that one million of Australia’s AstraZeneca doses be diverted to neighboring Papua New Guinea, which is facing a worrying COVID-19 wave.
Early in the pandemic, Morrison boasted that Australia would be “at the forefront of the queue” for vaccines following a series of deals with AstraZeneca, Pfizer and Novavax.
But public frustration over the actual rollout has led to angry exchanges last week between the Morrison government and government officials tasked with administering the program.
“Scott Morrison has to stop pretending nothing’s busy. Vaccinations are our ticket back to normal – the government needs to move on,” said opposition leader Anthony Albanese.