Under fire for its failure to procure enough coronavirus vaccines for the European Union’s 450 million citizens, the European Commission last week approved Italy’s request to block the export of a relative handful of drugs to Australia. The decision set off a storm of controversy.

EU Shot in the Dark

The drugs in question – 250,000 doses from the pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca – were to be exported to Australia from one of the company’s Italian factories. The move to block exports was in retaliation after AstraZeneca reneged on its pledge to supply 100 million doses to EU countries this spring. Instead, it will deliver 40 million.

But the contract signed between AstraZeneca and the EU said that the company would make its “best efforts” to meet its obligations, giving it legal room to delay deliveries if necessary. Stopping a shipment to Australia seems more like a fit of temper than a solution to the continent’s vaccine rollout problems.

Europe is facing a shortage of vaccines due to late and insufficient orders placed in 2020 by the European Commission, headed by President Ursula von der Leyen. The EU didn’t place concrete orders for any vaccines until mid-November and ordered far less than it could have.

It only secured 200 million doses from Pfizer-BioNTech, with an option for 100 million more that would be manufactured later. According to Der Spiegel magazine, BioNTech had additional production capacity and offered up to 500 million doses in the first round, but the offer was not accepted.

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