At the height of the COVID-19 Delta outbreak in Sydney, NSW has sought help from other states to increase its immunization supplies. It received a cold response, with each state closely keeping its own limited stocks.
When Australia turned to the global community, it obtained 500,000 doses of Pfizer vaccine from Singapore in September as part of a swap deal that will see Australia return the same amount in December. Another million surplus vaccines produced at Pfizer’s facilities in Belgium were also purchased from non-profit Poland.
At the time, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the Singapore deal would speed up our vaccination program at a critical time. As of Friday, 87.9% of Australians aged 16 and over had received a dose of the coronavirus vaccine and 76.2% were fully vaccinated. Health Minister Greg Hunt said we can expect to exceed the double dose rate by 80% in 10 days, a critical milestone.
As Australia now prepares to provide a third booster, neighboring Papua New Guinea has only vaccinated around 1.5% of its 10 million people with a first dose, according to figures released earlier this month by Brendan Crabb of the Burnet Institute. UNICEF estimates that less than 5% of the African population is fully immunized.
The World Health Organization reports that 63 percent of people in rich countries have received at least one vaccine compared to only 4.5 percent of people in poor countries. It indicates that of the 5.7 billion doses of coronavirus vaccines administered worldwide, only 2% were administered in Africa.
United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has called the inequitable distribution of COVID-19 vaccines “obscenity.”
Addressing a rally of world leaders in New York last month, he said the images of expired and unused vaccines in the trash cans were a moral indictment against the world. We had passed the science test, but we failed in ethics.
UNICEF Australia also warned against wasting unused vaccines and stressed the need to share more with poorer countries. Of the 1.3 billion additional doses that countries have pledged to donate, only a fraction, 356 million doses, have so far been provided to the COVID-19 Global Vaccine Access Program (COVAX). ‘World Health Organization. UNICEF urges world leaders to address the issue at the G20 meeting this weekend.
The federal government has ordered more than 225 million doses of Pfizer, Moderna, AstraZeneca and Novavax vaccines for the country this year and next. The Commonwealth has committed 40 million for foreign aid and another 20 million through a partnership with UNICEF. But Australia has so far donated just 5.8 million doses to neighboring countries, including Fiji, Papua New Guinea, Timor Leste, Indonesia and Vietnam.
We could do better, especially when we have around 7 million unused doses of Moderna, AstraZeneca and Pfizer in fridges and freezers across the country. Apart from any altruistic intention, it is also in our interest to help strengthen immunization efforts in these poorest countries.