France has threatened to join Italy and block Covid-19 vaccine shipments to Australia, as authorities in Europe race to justify the decision to ban a quarter of a million doses.
Italy's bombshell decision last week marked the first time officials used their power to stop vaccines manufactured in Europe from being sent abroad.
The shipment was banned because drug giant AstraZeneca has not provided the bloc with as many vials as expected.
The comments by French Health Minister Olivier Véran came the day after Rome invoked European Union powers to block the shipment to Australia.
"Of course, I understand what Italy did. We could do the same thing," Véran said during an interview with CNN affiliate BFM today.
"We are closely discussing with Italians, as well as with all our European partners to have a European approach on the issue.
"Since the first day, France has believed in a shared European approach."
Australia's Trade Minister Dan Tehan has been in talks overnight with the vice president of the European Commission regarding Italy's surprise move.
Tehan has been contacted for comment.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison was asked yesterday whether he blamed Italian authorities for blocking the supply of the AstraZeneca vaccine.
"Well, they're certainly responsible for exercising the veto right they had through the EU process about those supplies coming to Australia," he said.
"We'd always anticipated that these sorts of problems could arise. And that's why we've done a number of things, the most significant of which is to ensure that we have our own domestically produced vaccine."
Morrison said he is in regular contact with European leaders and he understands the "anxiety" that would exist in Italy given hundreds of people are dying every day.
"They are in an unbridled crisis situation. That is not the situation in Australia."
He said Italy's move should not impact Australia's vaccine rollout.
Europe v AstraZeneca
At the beginning of the year a conflict erupted between the European Union and AstraZeneca over vaccine delays.
The vaccine producer had reportedly failed to meet the production targets set out in its contract.
The European Commission later adopted new measures giving member states the power to restrict the export of vaccines outside the bloc.
Despite the shock move, Morrison said it would be "unfair" to describe Italy's move as an act of nationalism or protection.
"It's fair to say the European Union has seen a large amount of vaccines leave the European Union, so it would be unfair to suggest that they've engaged in a universal practice of that nature.
"But, obviously, you know, it's important that contracts are honoured. It's important that the vaccines not only reach across Europe and North America, but particularly in the developed world as well."
About 50 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine are expected to be made at a plant in Melbourne's northern suburbs.