France has threatened to block exports of AstraZeneca vaccines from the European Union, after Italy used EU rules to stop 250,000 doses of the Oxford University jab being sent to Australia. The threat was made as the European Commission, which approved the bloc’s first vaccine export ban, said the decision by Rome and Brussels was designed to “send a message” to AstraZeneca. “The message is very clearly [...] that we expect companies with which the European Union has signed advanced purchasing agreements to do their utmost to comply with the contracts,” the commission’s chief spokesman said. A “frustrated” and “disappointed” Australia demanded assurances from Brussels that future vaccine shipments will go ahead and asked the commission to review the decision. Trade minister Dan Tehan spoke to the EU’s Trade Commissioner this morning, who told him there will be no problems with shipments from companies that honour their contracts with the EU. The British-Swedish pharmaceutical company has been embroiled in a rumbling row over supply shortfalls with the EU since January. Brussels says it is in breach of contractual obligations, which AstraZeneca denies. AstraZeneca cut its supplies to the EU in the first quarter to 40 million doses from 90 million foreseen in the contract, and later said it would cut deliveries by another 50 percent in the second quarter. European leaders increasingly see the Oxford University jab as pivotal in their efforts to kickstart the EU’s vaccination programme, which lags far behind the UK, US and Israel. The EU initially trumpeted the merits of its common vaccine strategy, after signing deals with six labs for 2.5 billion shots, including 400 million AstraZeneca doses, from six labs for a total population of 450 million. The bloc has only given 33 million to date and only 11 million Europeans have been fully vaccinated. The EU has a target of vaccinating 70 per cent of the adult population by the end of summer. An increasing number of EU countries, including France and Germany have removed age restrictions on the AstraZeneca jab to speed up inoculations.