Australia commits to AUD$80 million vaccine plan

Australia has promised to contribute AUD$80 million to an initiative that would help Pacific countries get cheap access to a potential coronavirus vaccine.

The Australian Government's support is going to the Gavi C.O.V.A.X. Facility Advance Market Commitment (C.O.V.A.X. A.M.C.), a mechanism designed to ensure every country in the world can get fair and equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines.

The commitment supports high-risk populations in low-income countries and has secured over AUD$830 million from donors such as Australia, Italy and the United Kingdom.

In a statement released on Thursday, the Australian Government said that the A.M.C. will address the acute phase of the pandemic, providing doses for up to 20 per cent of countries’ populations in its first phase, ensuring that health care workers and vulnerable groups, such as the elderly, have access.

"Australia’s contribution of $80 million will help secure COVID-19 vaccines for Pacific Island and Southeast Asian countries,” a press release co-signed by a number of Australian Government Ministers read. 

“Access to vaccines will play a critical role in the economic recovery of our region from this pandemic.”

Pacific countries eligible for vaccine support include Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, Fiji, Samoa, Tonga, Tuvalu and Kiribati. Eligible countries from Southeast Asia are Indonesia, Timor-Leste, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, The Philippines and Vietnam.

The move was praised by some Pacific experts based in Australia for its potential to help the countries gain access to a vaccine.

But Marc Purcell, the Chief Executive Officer of the Australian Council for International Development, said that while the Australian Government had taken a positive step with the initiative he was disappointed to see the money was being drawn from Australia's existing aid budget and not a fresh contribution. 

"It is deeply disappointing that this will come from existing budgets. This risks development gains and compromises existing partnerships in the region," Mr Purcell said in comments carried by Nine newspapers in Australia. 

"The aid program has seen more slicing and dicing than a chef's kitchen. New resources are required." 

Pacific Friends of Global Health Board chair Brendan Crabb said vaccinating everyone in the region was essential, not just to protect those in need but also in the interests of developed nations such as Australia.

China has been administering a coronavirus vaccine candidate to selected groups of workers since July, while the United States and Russia have also been spending billions of dollars into their bids to develop a vaccine.

The Australian Government pledge also comes just days after Australia secured a deal that ensures every Australian will receive a free COVID-19 vaccine if current vaccine trials at Oxford University prove successful.

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