The European Union has denied blocking shipments of more than three million doses of AstraZeneca’s coronavirus vaccine to Australia.
It comes after Prime Minister Scott Morrison blamed vaccine supply issues for the nation failing to meet his government’s jab targets.
Agriculture Minister David Littleproud had stretched the vaccine hold up theory even further than the PM, telling the Nine Network the EU had “cut us short”.
But Chief EU Commission spokesman Eric Mamer said no attempt was made to stop 3.1 million shots from leaving Europe for Australia.
Mr Mamer said the only time the Commission used its powers to keep jabs in the European Union was in early March when 250,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine were blocked from Australia.
“There was, at that point in time only one request, which had been refused, which is the well-known request to Australia but for much, much smaller quantities which dates now back quite some time and there has been no further development since then,” he said in a press conference on Wednesday morning (Australian time).
“So we certainly cannot confirm any new decision to block vaccine exports to Australia or to any other country for that matter.”
Four million Australians were meant to be vaccinated by the end of March.
About 855,000 (3 per cent of Australians) had received the jab by Monday, earning us 90th place in the global vaccination rankings.
Mr Morrison maintains Australia’s vaccination rollout is “not a bad effort”, shrugging off calls for mass vaccination sites.
“At this stage of our rollout, it is actually better than where Germany was, better than where New Zealand was, better than where South Korea and Japan was,” he said in Parliament House on Tuesday.
He defended Australia’s plans for a rollout underpinned by general practice doctors.
The number of GPs to distribute vaccines is set to double from 1500 to 3000 by the end of this week, then to 4000 by April’s end.
Mr Morrison said for people in Phases 1a and 1b of the rollout, including the elderly and those with underlying health conditions, their trusted local GP was “the best place” for them to get their jab.
“In just two weeks, the GPs vaccinated 280,943 people. It is not a bad effort in their first couple of weeks and they are just getting started,” he said.
The PM’s defence of his government comes as Coalition ally Gladys Berejiklian casts further doubt on the nation achieving its goal of vaccinating all Australians by October.
“It will be a big stretch,” Ms Berejiklian said of the October deadline on Tuesday.
Labor’s shadow health minister Mark Butler said there was “a very strong time imperative” to get vaccines out faster.
“[Mr Morrison] says this is not a race. Well, frankly, this is a race … to ensure that we are fully vaccinated to give the economy confidence, to give jobs confidence,” he said.
Pharmacies concerned at delay
There are concerns community pharmacies may not receive their vaccination supplies until far later than planned.
Chemists were supposed to start giving jabs in May, but The New Daily understands federal health authorities have now advised pharmacies it may not be until June.
“We understand government will bring us on as part of Phase 2a, which was due to start in May but has now been pushed back to June, and we remain keen to play our role in dealing with the pandemic,” national president of the Pharmacy Guild Professor Trent Twomey told TND.
“We’re prepared and ready to go – we’ve done all the mandatory training required for all COVID vaccine providers, including GPs and nurses … Last year community pharmacies provided an estimated three million influenza vaccinations, and we’ll do it again and more this year.”
Mr Morrison denied there was a delay in bringing pharmacies onboard, but federal health department documents clearly show chemists were due to join the rollout from Phase 2a, which was “planned to commence from May 2021” – not June.
“It was never ever the plan that pharmacists would be involved in the vaccination program at this point, so there has been no slippage, there has been no delay, and the medical advice is it is not the time for pharmacists to be involved at this point,” the PM said.
“We were always working to mid-year.”
Mass vaccination calls grow
Federal Labor has been pushing for more mass vaccination sites nationwide, as have some state governments, including Premier Berejiklian in NSW.
The nation’s acting chief medical officer Michael Kidd said “we don’t need that sort of system”, and Mr Morrison has previously opposed such large hubs.
On Tuesday, he left the door open to “the potential for other ways” to rollout vaccines more widely in future.
Ms Berejiklian called on the government to let the state governments carry more of the burden and get shots done.
NSW has six million residents to vaccinate.
National cabinet on Friday will debate proposals to share more vaccination data in a timely manner, after criticisms that numbers were not being shared appropriately.
Mr Morrison said it would be “a good idea for us to have more data transparency” on vaccinations.