Government pledges $80m to help ensure poorer countries can access COVID-19 vaccine

The Federal Government has pledged $80 million to a global effort designed to ensure any future COVID-19 vaccine is distributed cheaply in poorer countries around the world.

Several countries — including Canada, Italy and the United Kingdom — have already made commitments to the COVAX AMC, a finance mechanism designed to ensure large pharmaceutical companies supply developing nations with affordable doses of a coronavirus vaccine.

The initiative is being coordinated by the international vaccine alliance GAVI, which has been pressing major philanthropists, wealthy countries and the pharmaceutical industry for support.

In a statement, Foreign Minister Marise Payne and Health Minister Greg Hunt said Australia wanted to ensure any future COVID-19 vaccines were “safe, effective and affordable”, particularly for countries in the broader region.

“By supporting the COVAX AMC, Australia will help secure COVID-19 vaccines for Pacific Island and South-East Asian countries,” the ministers said.

“The AMC 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 healthcare workers and vulnerable groups, such as the elderly, have access.”

An employee wears a mask, goggles and hairnet at the Brazilian trials for the potential coronavirus vaccine developed by Oxford.
Advanced trials are underway for some vaccine candidates.(Reuters: Amanda Perobelli)

The Federal Government also argues a vaccine will be crucial to ensuring the region’s economic recovery in the wake of the pandemic.

The commitment will be welcomed by aid groups, which have been pressing the Coalition to contribute to the COVAX AMC initiative.

However they are likely to be unhappy the $80 million commitment will be drawn from the existing aid budget at the expense of other programs.

The AMC will be open to developing countries around the globe. The Federal Government says Pacific countries eligible for support include Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, Fiji, Samoa, Tonga, Tuvalu and Kiribati.

The eligible countries from South-East Asia are Indonesia, Timor-Leste, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, The Philippines and Vietnam.

COVAX AMC has already raised more than $US600 million ($836 million), and wants to secure seed funding of $US2 billion by the end of the year.

The Government has separately made a broader pledge of $300 million in funding for GAVI over a five-year period from 2021 to 2025 — an increase from the $250 million it provided between 2016 and 2020.

The Prime Minister has also flagged an agreement to secure a vaccine currently being trialled by UK-based drug company AstraZeneca.

Scott Morrison said Australia might also distribute that vaccine to Pacific Island and South-East Asian countries if the Government is able to ramp up local production.

Global debate over COVID-19 drugs has intensified in recent months as several nations — including the United States, Russia and China — pour billions of dollars into the race for a working vaccine.

The United Nations secretary-general has repeatedly warned countries they should note hoard vaccine stocks for their own citizens alone or use a working vaccine as a diplomatic bargaining chip.