The Borneo Post (Sabah)

Australia sending envoy to Europe amid scramble over vaccine roll-out

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SYDNEY: Australia will dispatch its trade minister on a mission to Europe today, amid a dispute over more than three million doses of a EU-manufactur­ed shot which Canberra has purchased but not received.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison is scrambling to fix the country’s troubled vaccine roll-out, abandoning targets entirely after initially pledging all eligible adults would receive their jabs by October.

In a further blow to the flagging programme, officials last week 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.

Australia has been one of the world’s most successful countries in containing the spread of Covid-19, with no current known community transmissi­on and fewer than 30,000 cases recorded since the pandemic began.

Last year Morrison boasted that Australia would be “at the front of the queue” for vaccines after reaching deals with AstraZenec­a, Pfizer and Novavax.

But it has fallen far behind the government’s own schedule for vaccinatin­g people against the disease, with just under 1.2 million doses administer­ed by Sunday when it had pledged to give four million by the end of March. The government has blamed the slowdown on the EU’s failure to deliver expected AstraZenec­a doses, but state government­s have also complained about confusion in the distributi­on of vaccines to clinics.

Trade Minister Dan Tehan is now due to leave Thursday for talks with his counterpar­ts in Germany, France and Brussels “to discuss vaccine production and the EU export restrictio­n regime” for AstraZenec­a, his office said.

Australia had counted on using AstraZenec­a to inoculate most of its population, first using doses imported from Europe and then locally manufactur­ed vaccines as it awaits supplies of Pfizer and yet-to-be-approved Novavax to ramp up.

The vaccine rollout delays have spelled political trouble for Morrison, who just months ago was riding high on the country’s coronaviru­s success and reportedly mulling calling an early election.

Responding to the public pressure, Morrison said Wednesday he would reconvene twice-weekly “national cabinet” meetings with state and territory leaders “for the foreseeabl­e future until we solve the problems and get the programme back on track”.

“We are throwing everything at these issues, uniting the nation to keep the vaccinatio­n programme safe,” he said.

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