Australia is locked in an ugly spat with the European Union over coronavirus vaccines, with millions of doses in limbo as a war of words intensifies.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has blamed supply issues for his government’s failure to meet jab targets with the rollout well behind schedule.
But the EU denied the government’s claims it had blocked 3.1 million AstraZeneca doses from being sent to Australia.
Trade Minister Dan Tehan interpreted the denial as confirmation the EU will approve vaccine exports with one million destined for outbreak-stricken Papua New Guinea.
“On face value, if the EU are saying that they won’t use their export controls any more, this is terrific news,” he told the ABC.
“It means that we’ll be able to get more vaccines for PNG where they’re much- needed and hopefully here to Australia.”
The European Commission, which is the EU’s executive branch, insists the only export request rejection was of 250,000 doses to Australia in March.
“We cannot confirm any new decision to block vaccine exports to Australia or to any other country,” the EC’s spokesman told reporters in Europe.
A federal government spokesman said the European Commission was “arguing semantics” and had requested Australia to withdraw other export permit applications.
He also said the EU had not responded to a March 17 request for one million doses of Australia’s contracted supply to be sent to PNG.
Australia has administered about 855,000 vaccine doses despite the government promising four million jabs by the end of March.
Mr Morrison on Tuesday was adamant supply issues from Europe were behind the shortfall.
Cabinet minister David Littleproud went further, accusing the EU of badly letting down Australia.
“The arithmetic is simple on this. We are three million short because of the EU, who cut us short,” he said.
An EU official said there was no request for export to Australia under review after it emerged seven were under scrutiny, putting some shipments on hold.
There are 2.5 million doses of Australian-made AstraZeneca shots awaiting testing from the nation’s medicine regulator.
The prime minister continues to defend the vaccine rollout despite persistent criticism of its slow progress.
“I don’t intend to rush the process and put people’s health at risk,” Mr Morrison said.
The government has also rejected the opposition’s calls for mass vaccination sites with general practices preferred in initial stages of the rollout.