Australia’s vaccine rollout was boosted by a shipment from Britain that was kept quiet to avoid controversy, according to reports in the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock, on Thursday morning, did not deny the 717,000 doses manufactured in the UK had been sent to Australia but said it was not the Government who made the shipment.
“No, the British Government has a contract with seven companies now, but of course including AstraZeneca, for the delivery by AstraZeneca to the UK for us to deploy through the NHS, and that’s the bit I’m responsible for.”
Mr Hancock told Sky News: “In terms of what the companies do, these companies are manufacturing for all around the world and we source from everywhere in the world, so what I’m in control of, what matters for us as the UK Government, is making sure that we get the supplies that we have got contracted from the companies.”
Mr Hancock said last month that vaccine shortages in Britain mean there will be no more first appointments for jabs booked in April amid growing chaos with supplies.
Australia has entered the vaccine row with the European Union in recent weeks after the bloc placed tough export controls on jabs.
The Australian government received 300,000 UK-made doses at Sydney Airport on February 28, one month after the EU set up curbs on limiting vaccines being sent abroad.
At the time, the government said the shipment had come from “overseas”. Not a single vaccine has been sent by Brussels to Australia, the newspapers claim.
Last month, the Italian government blocked the export of 250,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine to Australia.
Scott Morrison, Australia’s prime minister, says his country is owed more than 3.1 million doses of the vaccine and on Wednesday demanded that Brussels approve the shipments.
The UK has sent vaccines to its overseas territories, including Gibraltar and the Falkland Islands, but Australia is thought to be the only country to receive AstraZeneca jabs made in British factories.
A senior Whitehall official told the newspapers that the shipments to Australia did not hinder the UK rollout, which has been one of the quickest in the world.
Dr Brendan Murphy, a secretary at the Australian department of health, told Sky News last month that Britain had “helped us a lot”.
Asked whether the European Commission would reconsider its position on blocking vaccine exports, a spokesperson said: “Since the implementation of the export authorisation system, Australia has received more than one million doses of vaccines from the EU.”
On Thursday, Australia said it had no plans to stop distributing AstraZeneca’s vaccine after Europe’s drug regulator found possible links to rare blood clots.
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