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 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. Dan Tehan, the trade minister, spoke to the EU's trade commissioner on Friday morning and was told there will be no problems with shipments from companies that honour their contracts with the EU. British-Swedish pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca has been embroiled in a rumbling row with the EU over supply shortfalls since January. Brussels says it is in breach of contractual obligations, which it 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 jab as pivotal in their efforts to kickstart the EU's vaccination programme, which lags far behind those of the UK, US and Israel.