The European Union has been blasted as a "total disgrace" for allowing Italy to block a quarter of a million doses of the AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine from reaching Australia — and some Brits are even offering to forego their jab so more can be sent here.
Amid a botched rollout across the EU, the Italian government notified Brussels of its decision to prevent 250,000 doses from being exported to Australia at the end of last week.
The European Commission could have objected to that decision, and did not.
The shipment was stopped because of the "continuing shortage of vaccines in the EU and in Italy and delays in supplies from AstraZeneca to the EU and Italy," the Italian foreign ministry said in a statement.
It was also blocked because Australia is not considered a "vulnerable" country in the context of the pandemic, and because of the "high number of doses" requested.
New Zealand has ordered 7.6 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine and had anticipated receiving nearly 250,000 doses before July as part of its deal with international alliance Covax.
The news has been met with fury by some, as commentators accused the EU of "bullying" Australia over its own failures to protect its people.
"The decision by Italy and the European Union to block vaccine exports to Australia is a total disgrace," said Matthew Lesh, the Head of Research at the conservative Adam Smith Institute.
"A very clear demonstration of closed, self-interested and nationalistic behaviour. The world should not tolerate this bullying.
"Australia isn't responsible for the European Union's failure to secure enough doses or vaccinate across her population - Australia's most vulnerable shouldn't have to bear the consequences."
Many conservative British commentators shared his sentiment, and one even offered to postpone his inoculation, and have it shipped directly from the UK to Australia.
This is despite the UK still recording thousands of new cases a day, and Australia recording no local cases in over a week.
English journalist Kelvin MacKenzie erupted at the report, writing: "The EU is a disgrace. Read this. Under new protectionist laws they have banned Italy shipping 250,000 AZ jabs to Australia.
"Europe is short of vaccine due to its own stupidity. France and Germany don't even believe in AZ but won't let anybody else have it. Shockers."
By comparison, Italy is seeing surge in new cases. On Wednesday, the nation recorded a total of 20,840 new cases — meaning the seven-day average there now stands at 18,244.
Meanwhile, European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control statistics show Italy has currently received 1,512,000 AstraZeneca doses — but has only managed to administer 322,801 of them so far.
Italy's government have come in for sharp criticism by Italians for a slow vaccination rollout, which started in December but has been held up by a lack of doses.
So far, 1.5 million adults, mainly the elderly and health workers, have been fully vaccinated in the country of 60 million - one of the worst-hit by the pandemic, with almost 100,000 deaths from Covid-19.
The Italian government - whose new Prime Minister Mario Draghi has pledged to ramp up national vaccination efforts - notified AstraZeneca of its decision to block exports to Australia on March 2.
The ministry said Italy had previously authorised the export of AstraZeneca vaccine - which is manufactured in multiple countries and packaged at sites in Germany and Italy - but only in "modest quantities … for scientific research purposes."
The doses came from a plant in Italy operated by AstraZeneca to produce some of its vaccine, one of three authorised for use in the EU alongside the BioNTech/Pfizer and Moderna versions.
Under the commission's "transparency and authorisation mechanism" EU member states vet planned exports out of the bloc of authorised Covid-19 vaccines.
The scheme started on January 30 and is to run until at least the end of March. That period corresponds to a sharp shortfall in the first three months of this year of deliveries the EU had been counting on to kickstart its vaccine rollout.
Most the shortfall is because AstraZeneca has pledged "best reasonable efforts" to deliver around 100 million doses in that time, but is now on track to supply just 40 per cent of that.
At the same time, the UK-based company is fully supplying former EU member Britain with doses for its world-leading vaccination programme.
The World Health Organisation in January said the EU export vetting scheme is part of a "very worrying trend" that could jeopardise global supply chains for vaccines. The EU is one of the world's vaccine-producing powerhouses.
Under the EU scheme, a company wanting to export doses out of the bloc needs to apply to the member state government to do so.