Prime Minister Scott Morrison has denied criticising the European Union over Australia’s shortfall of AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccines, but insisted the government was expecting an additional 3.1 million doses it never received.
On Tuesday, Mr Morrison appeared to suggest the contracted doses had been blocked from being imported to Australia.
The European Union overnight pushed back against claims it had blocked shipments of 3.1 million doses of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine from going to Australia.
Mr Morrison told reporters on Wednesday he was simply stating that Australia had been relying on the contracted vaccines to support its rollout.
“I want to stress that at no time yesterday did I make any comment about the actions of the European Union,” he told reporters in Canberra.
“Any suggestion that I, in any way, made any criticism of the European Union yesterday would be completely incorrect.”
The dispute has underscored massive shortfalls of the AstraZeneca shot across the EU and delays to Australia’s vaccine campaign.
Mr Morrison has defended the government’s response against accusations its vaccine rollout has failed to meet its own targets.
“It’s straightforward maths. 3.1 million out of 3.8 million doses did not come to Australia,” he said.
“That obviously had a very significant impact on the early rollout of the vaccination program.”
A European Commission spokesperson overnight said the only export request rejected out of nearly 500 received has been so far a shipment of 250,000 doses to Australia in March, which is well known.
“We cannot confirm any new decision to block vaccine exports to Australia or to any other country,” the spokesperson told a news conference in Europe on Tuesday.
The export ban was over the highly publicised 250,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine from Italy last month.
Mr Morrison also said he intends to write to AstraZeneca to help them push through one million more doses.
“I can assure you that the first million of those will be used to support the humanitarian effort that we’re putting in place for Papua New Guinea,” he said.
Mr Morrison was also asked if Australia would be willing to forgo further doses from its domestic supply to support the Pacific island nation, in the wake of its COVID-19 outbreak.
“We obviously want those million doses [from AstraZeneca],” he said.
“If that doesn’t occur, then we have been working If that doesn’t occur, then we have been working with a number of other partners around the world to see how we can address that.
“We’re also considering what it might mean for Australia’s provision of doses directly.”
Mr Morrison added the situation in PNG was a “very serious one” as the country grapples with a surge in COVID-cases.
The Pacific Island nation has recorded more than 7,000 coronavirus cases as cases have mounted over recent weeks.
The prime minister has rejected Labor’s calls for mass vaccination sites, saying general practices are currently the best option for the early stages of the rollout which focuses on vulnerable people.
He also does not want to bring pharmacies into the rollout sooner than planned.
Mr Morrison said criticism of the vaccine rollout failed to recognise that “circumstances change” as the rollout is progressed.
“There are a lot of variables in this process. Supply chains get disrupted. Medical evidence comes forward which requires us to address it,” he said.
The EU has been grappling with its own shortfalls of the AstraZeneca vaccine as the pharmaceutical company struggles to cope with demand.
The drug maker is aiming to deliver only 100 million doses to the bloc by the end of June out of 300 million it had pledged.