Australia on Tuesday said it had not yet received more than 3 million doses of previously promised AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine doses amid export curbs by the European Union, leaving a major hole in its early nationwide inoculation drive.
Authorities had pledged to administer at least 4 million first doses of the vaccine by end-March, but could only vaccinate 670,000 after the European Union blocked AstraZeneca vaccine exports to Australia in the wake of the drugmaker’s failure to meet its shipment pledge to the bloc.
“We were scheduled to have received over 3 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine from overseas by now, which have not arrived in Australia because of the problems with shipments that we’ve seen happening here and in other parts of the world,” Acting Chief Medical Officer Michael Kidd told Sky News.
Australia began vaccinations much later than some other countries due to low case numbers, recording just under 29,400 COVID-19 cases and 909 deaths since the pandemic began. But the AstraZeneca dose delay leaves it struggling to step up the pace of its vaccination drive.
The majority of Australia’s near 26 million population will be administered the AstraZeneca vaccine, with 50 million doses set to be produced locally from the end of March. About 2.5 million doses have been locally produced so far with thousands of doses already cleared testing and distributed to the vaccination sites.
The Pharmacy Guild of Australia, tasked to help with the rollout of the nationwide inoculation programme from May, said on Tuesday that slow domestic vaccine approvals and logistics issues will now push deliveries to June.
“We have been told that the delay is linked to supply chain delays rather than the ability of the pharmacy network to participate,” Pharmacy Guild President Trent Twomey told Reuters.
Twomey also blamed the slow rollout on a lack of co-ordination between the Australian national government and states, with the latter complaining about slower-than-expected distribution and a lack of certainty on vaccine supplies.
National authorities, however, said vaccination centres would be doubled by the end of the week, as they look to ramp up the vaccination programme that aims to provide at least one dose to every person by the end of October.