Australia received batches of the AstraZeneca COVID vaccine through the United Kingdom, but the shipment was not announced to avoid controversy in Britain, the Sydney Morning Herald reported on Thursday.
The European Union previously blocked an AstraZeneca shipment to Australia, citing the company's failure to meet its contracted obligations.
According to the newspaper, the first 300,000 UK-made doses arrived at Sydney Airport on February 28. Another batch reportedly landed via an Emirates passenger plane in March.
The Sydney Morning Herald cited an unidentified British official as saying that the shipments to Australia were not made at the expense of the UK's vaccine rollout.
"Australia's early rollout has been propped up by 717,000 doses manufactured in the UK rather than from factories in Europe as widely believed," the newspaper said.
Australia 'reluctant' to comment
Reuters news agency said a spokesman for Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison declined to comment, while an unnamed source told Reuters that Australia was reluctant to confirm or deny the report.
"For reasons of supply chain integrity and national security, we do not advise the origins of particular vaccine shipments," the source told Reuters.
According to the health ministry's data, as of April 4, 841,885 Australians have received a COVID-19 vaccine.
Why is the EU not exporting COVID vaccines to Australia?
In March, the EU tightened its vaccine export controls. EU trade chief Valdis Dombrovskis said export licenses would be granted based on the epidemiological situation, the vaccination rate and access to jabs in the destination country.
The EU had earlier backed an Italian decision to block a shipment of the AstraZeneca vaccine headed for Australia after the Anglo-Swedish company failed to fulfill its contract commitments.
At the time, EU officials said AstraZeneca had requested authorization from the Italian government to export some 250,000 doses from its Anagni plant, close to Rome.
Amid vaccine shortages, the EU first introduced an export control system in late January. The bloc wanted to ensure drug manufacturers meet their contractual obligations before commercial exports.
EU and UK vaccine tensions
The increased export restrictions were expected to worsen ongoing post-Brexit tensions between the EU and the UK over vaccine production.
The bloc has reportedly exported at least 21 million doses to the UK, while Britain did not export any to the EU.
EU Council President Charles Michel had also accused Britain of blocking vaccine exports, which the UK denied. The Sydney Morning Herald pointed at this row, saying that the UK had not imposed a ban as it delivered batches to Australia.
But a UK-EU joint statement issued after the latest export restrictions assured that the two were in talks "to create a win-win situation and expand vaccine supply for all our citizens."
The UK has excelled over the EU in its vaccination drive, with 47% of the British population having received at least one jab — nearly four times that of most EU countries. But Britain is particularly interested in deliveries of a drug substance produced in the Netherlands, which AstraZeneca listed in both contracts it signed with the EU and UK.