Vaccinate poorer nations or risk everything, new report calls for $250m COVAX spend

As states and territories start to open up after hitting COVID-19 vaccination targets, there's a stark reminder that the pandemic is far from over and everything remains at risk until poorer nations are assisted to also vaccinate populations.

Specifically, the 'Shot of Hope' report released on Monday by 'The End COVID For All' campaign says delays to vaccination of developing nations creates the risk of deadly, more contagious COVID variants and it is calling on Australia to lift its commitment to the global vaccination effort by $250 million.

The Morrison government has welcomed the report, with the Minister for International Development and the Pacific, Zed Seseljia, saying Australia is absolutely committed to equitable access to COVID vaccines.

The report notes, on current trends, 19 low income countries won't reach 70 per cent vaccination until 2030.As well, two-thirds of 77 epidemiologists surveyed urge immediate action or they predict COVID-19 will mutate in less than a year.

"If COVID has taught us anything, it's an invisible virus that biologically connects all of us," Reverend Tim Costello from 'The End COVID For All' campaign told The Canberra Times.

"Therefore, it doesn't end for us here in Australia and until we vaccinate the world's poor, that's where the virus mutates. It will come here. So, nationalist thinking, you know where we can close our borders and just vaccinate ourselves many times over, does not protect us in a global world.

"The poorest are biologically interdependent with us. We may want to shake them from our minds, shake them from our heart. Actually what they're going through, their vulnerability becomes our vulnerability."

'Shot of Hope' was co-authored by an expert advisory group of researchers, analysts, and leaders from the organisations, including The Burnett Institute, UNICEF Australia and Médecins Sans Frontières Australia.

Australia has committed a total of $130 million to the global effort to widen COVID-19 vaccination of people in low- and middle-income countries - the COVAX Advance Market Commitment (COVAX AMC).

Australia made a commitment to send 2.5 million doses to Indonesia in 2021. Picture: Shutterstock

Australia made a commitment to send 2.5 million doses to Indonesia in 2021. Picture: Shutterstock

There have also been pledges as part of the leaders grouping with the United States, Japan and India, while millions of Australian-made AstraZeneca doses have also been donated to countries in the Indo-Pacific region, including a commitment to send 2.5 million doses to Indonesia in 2021.

"No it's not enough. We have committed about $130 million to the COVAX facility, but our fair share is an additional $250 million," Reverend Costello said.

"Because, again, we have these what sound like generous commitments from the Quad and everyone claps. And then you go, hang on. It's still less than four per cent of below developed, low income countries."

"So, we get these sort of what sound like generous statements rather than asking the question, 'what is our share?' And our share is an extra $250 million into COVAX and our fair share is $170 million to what's called the Rapid ACT Accelerator Delta Response (RADAR)."

Senator Seselja said Australia has committed more than $750 million to support vaccine access initiatives to date.

"Australia is absolutely committed to equitable access to COVID vaccines, including for developing countries, with a particular focus on ensuring our region is not left behind," he said.

"We welcome End COVID for All's constructive contribution to ending this pandemic.

"Australia has proudly committed to sharing 60 million vaccines with our neighbours in the Indo-Pacific by the end of 2022, and we have shared over 3.57 million vaccines directly with our region to date."

The report from End COVID for All also urges Australia to commit to share 20 million vaccines through the COVAX facility and increase Australia's overall aid commitment in response to the impact of the pandemic.

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This story Vaccinate poorer nations or risk all COVID-19 gains: report first appeared on The Canberra Times.

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