Australia appeals to EU over Italy's vaccine block

After Italy blocked a shipment of COVID-19 vaccines to Australia, Prime Minister Scott Morrison has appealed to the European Commission to intervene.

Italy barred the planned export of around 250,000 doses of AstraZeneca's vaccine, after the drug manufacturer failed to meet its European Union contract commitments.

Italy's decision was given the approval of the Commission, as anger simmers in Europe over the slow supply of vaccine doses.

Italian leader Mario Draghi has told fellow EU leaders they must take a tougher approach to drug companies.

Australia's Prime Minister Scott Morrison said he could understand the reasons for Italy's objection.

"In Italy people are dying at the rate of 300 a day. And so I can certainly understand the high level of anxiety that would exist in Italy and in many countries across Europe, as is regularly conveyed to me. And so they have some real difficulties there. They are in an unbridled crisis situation. That is not the situation in Australia. But, nevertheless, we have been able to secure our supplies."

EU countries began inoculations at the end of December, but are moving at a far slower pace than many other nations.

Australia started its vaccination program two weeks ago, but is under less pressure than Europe, having recorded just under 29,000 COVID-19 cases and 909 deaths.