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March 5, 2021, 1:19 a.m. EST

AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine shipment to Australia blocked by Italy

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By Giovanni Legorano and Jenny Strasburg

Italy blocked the export of AstraZeneca PLC’s Covid-19 vaccine to Australia, in a move coordinated with European Union authorities, reflecting mounting frustration in Europe with  slow deliveries of vaccines .

The move was prompted by the persisting shortage of vaccines in Italy and the EU, delays in the supply of vaccines by AstraZeneca /zigman2/quotes/200304487/composite AZN +1.44% /zigman2/quotes/203048482/delayed UK:AZN +1.68% and the fact that Australia is considered a “nonvulnerable country” to Covid-19 under EU regulations, Italy’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said.

The decision affects 250,700 doses, a number the ministry said was high compared with what has been delivered so far by AstraZeneca. The doses were bottled at a factory near Rome that is part of the company’s supply chain. AstraZeneca has delivered around 1.5 million doses to Italy, according to the government.

Read: Single dose of AstraZeneca or Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine cuts hospitalization risk by more than 80%, study shows

Representatives for AstraZeneca declined to comment on the decision.

The move by Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi’s government in Rome is the first use of a new EU policy that allows controls to be imposed on the export of Covid-19 vaccines. The EU is struggling to meet public expectations of a large-scale vaccine rollout that would rein in Covid-19 contagion and allow the easing of onerous restrictions that have weighed on Europe’s daily life and economy for months.

EU authorities have come under criticism for a vaccine strategy that bet on procuring an array of different vaccines—some of which still aren’t approved or available—and has been slow in comparison with regulatory and procurement efforts in the U.K. and U.S.

An expanded version of this story can be found at WSJ.com

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