Extraordinary revelations from the Sydney Morning Herald. A stockpile of Oxford-AstraZeneca orders has been secretly flown from Britain to Australia – 700,000 vaccines in fact. The move was kept under wraps by Whitehall and Aussie officials to prevent a backlash from the European Union after it prepared export bans on vaccine orders last month.
It was also kept secret to prevent an angry backlash from Brits, it seems.
The Aussies are in stage two of its four-phase inoculation programme but have fallen massively behind their targets, having administered fewer than a million jabs. Scott Morrison, the nation’s prime minister, has levelled the blame at Brussels. However, questions are being asked of Morrison’s administration about the lack of contingency planning.
Now, following last night’s press conferences into blood clots cases by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) and European Medicines Agency (EMA), Canberra has “recalibrated” its plans and announced that Pfizer will be preferred to Oxford-AstraZeneca for adults under 50.
The AZ shipment comes at a tricky moment, with the UK government looking to reduce dependency on European supply chains for the delivery of vaccines but racing to increase British production and finishing capacity. The UK government issues very little information about supply levels or delivery times, citing commercial confidentiality. This has served Whitehall well, so far. But if there is now a delay – a combination of restricting AZ use and a time lag on supplies of other vaccines – then Number 10 will come under pressure to provide clear explanations and detail the implications.