717,000 AstraZeneca jabs have been sent from Britain to Australia after the EU blocked exports

Hundreds of thousands of doses of AstraZeneca vaccine have been secretly flown to Australia from Britain after the EU blocked exports to the country.

A total of 717,000 doses have been sent, but the source of the shipments was kept quiet to avoid any controversy in the United Kingdom, the Sydney Morning Herald reported on Thursday.

The first 300,000 British-made doses landed at Sydney airport on February 28 – a month after the European Commission adopted curbs on the export of vaccines produced in the EU, the newspaper said.

Another large batch arrived on an Emirates passenger plane in March, well after Italy and the European Commission formally blocked an application by AstraZeneca to ship 250,000 doses to Australia, it added.

The paper cited an unidentified British official as saying the shipments to Australia were never at the expense of Britain’s vaccine rollout, one of the world’s swiftest.

Meanwhile on Thursday, Australia joined a growing number of countries halting the use of the AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine for younger people – in this case for those under the age of 50 – over fears it can cause serious blood clots.

The EU blocked a shipment of AstraZeneca vaccines from leaving Italy for Australia last month, drawing on controversial export laws for the first time. Pictured: The first shipment of AstraZeneca arriving in Australia on February 28

The EU blocked a shipment of AstraZeneca vaccines from leaving Italy for Australia last month, drawing on controversial export laws for the first time. Pictured: The first shipment of AstraZeneca arriving in Australia on February 28

The EU blocked a shipment of AstraZeneca vaccines from leaving Italy for Australia last month, drawing on controversial export laws for the first time. Pictured: The first shipment of AstraZeneca arriving in Australia on February 28 

So far, three in five adults in the UK have been given at least one dose of coronavirus vaccine since the program began in late December. 

While Britain has sent doses to overseas territories – such as Gibraltar and the Falkland Islands – Australia is thought to be the only separate country to receive AstraZeneca vaccines made in Britain. 

Health Secretary Matt Hancock did not deny that AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccines manufactured in the UK have been sent to Australia.

Mr Hancock told Sky News: ‘In terms of what the companies do, these companies are manufacturing for all around the world and we source from everywhere in the world, so what I’m in control of, what matters for us as the UK Government, is making sure that we get the supplies that we have got contracted from the companies.’

But he said the Government did not send the doses.

He said: ‘No, the British Government has a contract with seven companies now, but of course including AstraZeneca, for the delivery by AstraZeneca to the UK for us to deploy through the NHS, and that’s the bit I’m responsible for.’ 

A spokesman for Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison declined to comment. A second source said Australia was reluctant to confirm or deny the report.

‘For reasons of supply chain integrity and national security, we do not advise the origins of particular vaccine shipments,’ said the source, who sought anonymity in the absence of authority to speak on the matter.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock (pictured speaking to Sky News) did not deny that AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccines manufactured in the UK have been sent to Australia

Health Secretary Matt Hancock (pictured speaking to Sky News) did not deny that AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccines manufactured in the UK have been sent to Australia

Health Secretary Matt Hancock (pictured speaking to Sky News) did not deny that AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccines manufactured in the UK have been sent to Australia

AUSTRALIA’S VACCINE ROLLOUT

Pfizer/BioNTech

  • 10 million doses will be available from early 2021
  • These doses will be manufactured offshore
  • Australia will have the option to purchase additional doses where supply is available

University of Oxford/AstraZeneca 

  • Australia has secured 53.8 million doses of this vaccine
  • 3.8 million doses will be delivered to Australia in early 2021
  • 50 million doses will be manufactured in Australia in monthly batches. CSL will manufacture these doses on behalf of AstraZeneca 

Novavax  

  • 51 million doses will be made available in Australia during 2021
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The news of the shipment from the UK comes as concerns continue to be raised about the safety of the AstraZeneca vaccine, leading to Australia halting its use among younger people over fears it can cause serious blood clots.

In a further setback for Australia’s already halting coronavirus vaccine rollout, officials said the AstraZeneca shot should no longer be given to people under the age of 50, unless they had already received a first dose without any ill effects. 

Prime Minister Scott Morrison held an evening press conference to announce the decision shortly after the government’s medical advisory board decided to follow European and other countries in limiting the use of AstraZeneca. 

Prime Minister Scott Morrison held an evening press conference to announce the decision shortly after the government’s medical advisory board decided to follow European and other countries in limiting the use of AstraZeneca.

‘It has not been our practice to jump at shadows, it has not been our practice to take unnecessary precautions,’ he said in explaining the step.

‘We’ve been taking the necessary precautions based on the best possible medical advice.’

Australia has been one of the world’s most successful countries in containing the spread of Covid-19, with fewer than 30,000 cases and 1,000 deaths for a population of 25 million and virtually no ongoing community transmission.

But it has fallen far behind the government’s own schedule for vaccinating people against the disease, with just a million doses administered by Thursday when it had pledged to give four million doses by last week.

Australia had counted on using AstraZeneca to inoculate most of its population, first using doses imported from Europe and then locally manufactured vaccines.

But vaccine shortages in Europe led to delays in AstraZeneca shipments, while planned deliveries of alternative vaccines like Pfizer/BioNTech and Novavax have not yet ramped up.

Several European countries have already suspended the use of AstraZeneca’s vaccine for younger populations after it was earlier banned outright in several places over blood clot scares.

The EU’s medicines regulator said Wednesday that the blood clots should be listed as a rare side effect of the shot, but that the benefits of inoculation continue to outweigh the risks.

Australian officials justified the cutoff age of 50 for giving the vaccine by saying younger people were less at risk of suffering severe complications from Covid-19.

But they stressed that older Australians should continue to trust the AstraZeneca shots.

‘I want to reiterate that we are strongly encouraging those 50 and over to take up the AstraZeneca vaccine – it is a highly effective vaccine at preventing severe Covid,’ said Brendan Murphy, head of the government’s health department.

He added that the danger from blood clots associated with the vaccine was ‘extraordinarily low’.

There has so far been only one case of blood clotting in a patient who received the AstraZeneca vaccine in Australia. 

Morrison and Murphy said they were confident there would be enough doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech and Novavax vaccines to inoculate Australian adults.  

A spokesman for Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison (pictured on Wednesday) declined to comment on the shipment of vaccines from Britain

A spokesman for Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison (pictured on Wednesday) declined to comment on the shipment of vaccines from Britain

A spokesman for Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison (pictured on Wednesday) declined to comment on the shipment of vaccines from Britain

Australia is still owed 3.1 million doses from overseas, and on Wednesday demanded that the European Commission give the green light to doses that were blocked from being exported in March. 

Also on Wednesday, a spokesman for the European Commission said Italy blocked the export because ‘AstraZeneca is not meeting its obligations in the EU’.

‘So far, the company has delivered much less than what was foreseen,’ the spokesperson said. ‘The pandemic continues to be very acute in the EU.’ 

Early last month, the EU was branded a ‘total disgrace’ and a ‘bully’ after it blocked an application for the 250,000-dose shipment of AstraZeneca to Down Under. 

Officials in Rome informed the EU of its intention to act at the time, and Brussels did not object to the move. 

Authorities in Italy used controversial export laws – approved by the EU in January to control doses leaving the bloc – to block the shipment, refusing to grant a licence for the doses manufactured in the country to be exported.

The EU gave itself the powers to do so after AstraZeneca failed to meed its contract with Brussels, resulting in a bitter dispute between post-Brexit Britain and the bloc. 

European Leaders accused Britain of prioritising itself ahead of Europe’s 450 million people, with European Council President Charles Michel writing in early March that the UK had ‘imposed an outright ban on the export of vaccines or vaccine components produced on their territory’. 

But with the news that 300,000 doses left the UK to Australia on February 28, his claim – which was heavily rebuked at the time – has been proven false.  

The UK government was quick to deny Michel’s claim, has also repeatedly refused to say whether any vaccines had been sent abroad, and if so, to which countries. 

Authorities in Italy used controversial export laws to block the shipment, refusing to grant a licence for the doses manufactured in the country to be exported. It came as the 27 member bloc's own disastrous jab programme left its leaders - such as President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen (pictured March 25) - red faced

Authorities in Italy used controversial export laws to block the shipment, refusing to grant a licence for the doses manufactured in the country to be exported. It came as the 27 member bloc's own disastrous jab programme left its leaders - such as President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen (pictured March 25) - red faced

Authorities in Italy used controversial export laws to block the shipment, refusing to grant a licence for the doses manufactured in the country to be exported. It came as the 27 member bloc’s own disastrous jab programme left its leaders – such as President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen (pictured March 25) – red faced

The Italian foreign ministry said in a statement at the time that the batch was halted because of ‘continuing shortage of vaccines in the EU and in Italy and delays in supplies from AstraZeneca to the EU and Italy,’ 

Italy also argued Australia is not a high-risk country, with low case and death numbers, in stark contrast to countries overwhelmed by the pandemic. 

The move came amid a row over vaccines leaving the EU to other nations, including the UK, while the 27 member bloc’s own disastrous jab programme left its leaders – such as President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen – red faced.

The decision led to anger from commentators worldwide, with critics accusing the EU of punishing Australia due to their own management failures during the pandemic.

The EU has been frustrated with a slow vaccine rollout and criticised AstraZeneca for a shortfall in delivering millions of doses. 

However, the fact that Britain has been sending doses to Australia may go some way towards explaining why the EU blocked the export of 250,000 jabs.

Registered nurse Maddison Williams (left) receives the first jab of the Biotech Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine at the COVID-19 surge centre in Canberra, Monday, February 22, 2021

Registered nurse Maddison Williams (left) receives the first jab of the Biotech Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine at the COVID-19 surge centre in Canberra, Monday, February 22, 2021

Registered nurse Maddison Williams (left) receives the first jab of the Biotech Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine at the COVID-19 surge centre in Canberra, Monday, February 22, 2021

Earlier this week, British regulators said young people should be offered alternative vaccines while experts investigate its link to rare blood clots.

Most Australians were to receive the AstraZeneca vaccine with the government securing 53.8 million doses, including 50 million to be manufactured locally.  

The jab was declared safe by the Therapeutic Goods Administration and is an integral part of the nation’s slow-moving vaccine rollout – meaning there is no sure-fire way to demand another vaccine. 

Prime Minister Scott Morrison, Health Minister Greg Hunt and state premiers have previously publicly backed the vaccine and urged Australians to get it.

However, the federal government at the same time had asked the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation to review the British findings.

‘The government has asked ATAGI and the TGA to immediately consider and advise on the latest vaccination findings out of Europe and the UK,’ it said.

‘Regulators have already been working with their international counterparts to consider the latest international evidence.’

Advice from the two bodies will be given to the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee, comprised of the state and federal chief health officers.

A review by the UK’s drugs watchdog the MHRA found that by the end of March, a rate of just one in 250,000 Britons who received the AstraZeneca vaccine had suffered deadly blood clots in the brain or arteries.

Of the 79 cases, 19 died and three were under the age of 30. 

Slides presented at a press conference announcing the change in guidance on Wednesday showed that younger people are more prone to blood clots after vaccination than older groups. 

The MHRA said healthy people aged 19 to 29 should be offered either the Pfizer or Moderna jabs instead when the programme moves to younger groups in the coming months. 

Anyone who has already had their first dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine, regardless of their age, is being advised to go for their second appointment as planned. 

AstraZeneca’s jab is only being paused for under-30s in Britain because coronavirus levels are getting low, said the nation’s Deputy Chief Medical Officer Jonathan Van-Tam.

If Covid was still more prevalent, as it is in the rest of Europe, he suggested that the vaccine would still be recommended for all ages, including young people. 

Link hienalouca.com

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