Morrison denies criticising Europe on jabs

Scott Morrison has blamed Australia's failure to meet jab targets on EU supply issues.
Scott Morrison has blamed Australia's failure to meet jab targets on EU supply issues.

Scott Morrison has denied criticising the European Union despite blaming a lack of vaccine exports for Australia's slow immunisation rollout.

The prime minister has also challenged the powerful economic bloc to approve export licences for more than three million AstraZeneca doses, with the first million destined for Papua New Guinea.

Hours before Mr Morrison's media conference on the issue on Wednesday, a government spokesman said the European Commission was "arguing semantics" and had requested Australia withdraw export permit applications.

The spokesman accused the EC of standing in the way of Australia's vaccine deliveries and welcomed any change in that approach.

The EU overnight rejected the government's claims it had blocked the vaccines being sent to Australia.

Mr Morrison insists he was simply pointing out facts when he said 3.1 million AstraZeneca doses contracted to Australia were yet to arrive.

"Any suggestion that I, in any way, made any criticism of the European Union yesterday would be completely incorrect," he told reporters in Canberra.

Responding to the EU's denials, the prime minister said he would again write to officials and AstraZeneca to request the full order of 3.8 million doses.

"All I've simply done today is set out very clearly that 3.1 million vaccines didn't arrive in Australia," he said.

"That's just a simple fact. It's not a dispute. It's not a conflict. It's not an argument. It's not a clash."

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," an EC spokesman told reporters in Europe.

Australia has administered about 855,000 vaccine doses despite the government promising four million jabs by the end of March.

Health Minister Greg Hunt expects more than one million Australians to be vaccinated "very soon" and anticipates the two million mark will be exceeded not long after that as more general practices join the rollout.

Mr Morrison remains adamant supply issues from Europe are behind a shortfall in supply.

Cabinet minister David Littleproud went even further, accusing the EU of letting Australia down badly.

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.

Australia has received 870,000 doses of Pfizer vaccines from Europe.

There are also 2.5 million doses of Australian-made AstraZeneca shots awaiting testing from the nation's medicine regulator.

Mr Morrison said "just throwing more money" at manufacturer CSL would not fix the issue.

More than 1.3 million doses of AstraZeneca vaccines have been released from CSL.

A batch of 470,000 will be released later this week and another 480,000 early next week.

If a second batch of 670,000 vaccines is released later next week, CSL will eclipse its goal of producing one million vaccines each week.

Australian Associated Press