Australia remains confident that the European Union’s decision overnight to apply new export controls on COVID vaccines will not impact the early stages of the rollout here at home.
The European Commission has slapped an immediate export ban on coronavirus vaccines to ensure European citizens can be vaccinated first.
But despite reports this could throw Australia’s program into disarray, the Morrison Government and drug companies have told news.com.au that at this stage there’s no signal it will stop the imports.
Australia is awaiting the first batch of 80,000 doses of the Pfizer BioNtech vaccine from Belgium to commence the nation’s vaccination strategy in late February.
Health chiefs are also preparing to import 1.2 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine before local production commences of up to 50 million doses at CSL in Melbourne.
In a worrying sign, Australia is not listed in a group of countries exempt from the export ban powers.
Australia appears to have failed to obtain an exemption from the European rules based on a list of exempt countries released overnight.
That means the EU would have the power to ban exports to Australia, but officials here believe it does not represent any plan to immediately do so.
Asked about the EU threat on Friday, Mr Hunt said diplomatic efforts by himself and Foreign Minister Marise Payne were continuing.
“DFAT will be making representations through the World Health Organisation and through various European agencies and to relevant countries, about ensuring that our supply is guaranteed on a continuous basis,’’ he said.
“We understand that the whole world has to deal with supply shocks and therefore our volumes have been appropriately set out this week, but the Foreign Minister has confirmed today that Australia will be making representations through the World Health Organisation and through Europe, with regards to ensuring that the vaccine supplies and certainty for Australia.”
Exemptions have been granted to Algeria, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Palestine, Syria, Tunisia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Israel, Moldova, Ukraine, Norway, Serbia, Switzerland and the Vatican City.
The battle for COVID-19 vaccines does underline Australia’s strategy of manufacturing the vaccine here at home.
That means we don’t have to wait in a queue with other European countries and can be confident we can make our own vaccine, in the first instance the AstraZeneca vaccine at CSL in Melbourne.
Announcing the new powers, the European Union insisted it was “not our intention to restrict exports any more than absolutely necessary.”
“This not an export ban,’’ it said.
“The Commission is concerned by the lack of transparency around the ways some companies are operating and wants to have complete information in order to ensure they fulfil their contractual commitments.
“This measure applies from 30 January 2021 and runs until 31 March 2021. A large number of exports will be exempted from the mechanism.”
But there’s no doubt the EU’s shock move signals an emerging global trade war for vaccines which could play havoc with the vaccinate rollout internationally.
The ‘transparency mechanism’ announced gives EU countries powers to deny authorisation for vaccine exports if the company making them hasn’t honoured existing contracts with the EU.
“The protection and safety of our citizens is a priority and the challenges we now face left us with no choice but to act,” the European Commission said.
But the World Health Organisation director Tedros Ghebreyesus warned the decision was a threat to the world’s recovery.
“If we lose trust in international collaboration through COVID19 vaccine nationalism, we will all pay the price in terms of a protracted recovery,’’ Dr Tedros said.
“Many businesses have global operations that depend on global supply chains. In our global village, if the COVID19 virus continues to circulate, those operations and supply chains will continue to be disrupted and the economic recovery will be delayed”.