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‘No country is safe until every country is safe’: Australia joins global vaccine scheme


Doug Hendrie


23/09/2020 2:51:54 PM

COVAX is a worldwide initiative designed to ensure equitable access and reduce the risk of ‘vaccine nationalism’.

Examining vaccines
Australia’s $123 million contribution to the COVAX initiative is in addition to earlier commitments with Oxford University and University of Queensland for their vaccine candidates.

Australia will give $123 million to the COVAX vaccine scheme, aimed at ending the acute phase of the pandemic by the end of next year by buying and distributing enough vaccines to treat one billion people.
 
The initiative will also give Australia the right to buy enough vaccine doses to cover half of the country’s population from a range of candidate vaccines, if they meet safety and efficacy standards.
 
COVAX now includes 156 nations, representing almost two-thirds of the world’s population. However, the world’s two largest economies – the US and China – have to date both opted out.
 
The program will use funding from the 64 higher-income countries to secure enough doses for one billion people, shared among the higher-income and 92 lower- and middle-income nations.
 
That quantity is intended to allow every participating country the ability to rapidly immunise key vulnerable sectors, such as healthcare workers and those in social care settings, representing around 3% of the population, according to The Guardian.
 
After that, the scheme will aim to get to a 20% population coverage as supply becomes available.
 
World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the plan will allow ‘global coordination of the rollout for the greatest possible impact’ at the launch of the scheme in Geneva.
 
‘[It] will help bring the pandemic under control and ensure the race for vaccines is a collaboration, not a contest,’ he said.
 
In an 8 September opinion piece in The Economist, Dr Adhanom Ghebreyesus argued that to stop the pandemic quickly the world needs to resist vaccine nationalism, which he defines as ‘the desire of countries to go it alone’, and instead focus on global coordination through COVAX.
 
‘That approach will not end the crisis but perpetuate it. It invites the same problems that were seen at the outset of lockdowns in March, when different authorities scrambled for personal protective equipment like face-masks, gowns and sanitiser,’ Dr Adhanom Ghebreyesus wrote.
 
‘Once new vaccines, drugs and tests become available, demand will vastly outstrip supply and things will get much worse.
 
‘A COVID-19 vaccine will be a precious resource. Unless we have an international plan to manage it fairly, there will be unnecessary price spikes, with unneeded hoarding in some places and life-threatening shortages in others. That suits no one’s interests.
 
‘Although governments have a responsibility to protect their own populations, in an interconnected world the reality is that no country is safe until every country is safe. It means little if one place quells a disease if it rages nearby or is a plane ride away. Vaccine nationalism would condemn many countries to prolonged suffering, which means a slower economic recovery worldwide.
 
‘Instead, global coordination is essential. This will ensure that the vaccines are distributed on the basis of those who need it most. It also spreads a country’s risk, ensuring it has access to numerous vaccine candidates in case its preferred one doesn’t work.
 
‘A cooperative approach is both morally right and the smart way forward. It’s more efficient, with fewer lives lost and a faster return to normal life.’

Coronavirus-WHO-hero.jpg
WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the plan will allow ‘global coordination of the rollout for the greatest possible impact’. (Image: AAP)
 
Australia’s $123 million contribution to the COVAX initiative is in addition to earlier commitments with Oxford University and University of Queensland for their vaccine candidates.
 
Announcing the news, Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt said, ‘whoever finds a COVID-19 vaccine must share it’.
 
‘Being a part of COVAX means we’re giving Australians the best chance of accessing a safe and effective vaccine, but also our neighbours in the Pacific and Southeast Asia, and partners overseas,’ he said.
 
In a Sunrise interview, Minister Hunt described the agreement as providing ‘additional security and certainty, both for Australia but also for the world’.
 
‘The reason why it’s very important [is] we want to have as many eggs in the basket as possible,’ he said. ‘We’re very confident around the Oxford and the University of Queensland vaccines, but we want to make sure that we’ve got the maximum opportunities for what has been the greatest disruption to any of us since the Second World War.
 
‘[W]e’ll only have a truly safe world if we’re able to provide vaccines in the developing world to people who might otherwise not have that access [and] not have that support.’
 
COVAX is an initiative of the WHO in conjunction with epidemic preparedness group Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) and the Vaccine Alliance of Governments and Organisations (GAVI).
 
CEPI is leading COVAX research and development, and aims to develop at least three safe and effective vaccines to be made available to participating countries. Nine candidates are currently being supported by CEPI, including the University of Queensland/CSL candidate. 
 
Australia has previously contributed $80 million to the initiative.
 
In a video message, Professor Brendan Crabb of the Burnet Institute said the announcement is ‘terrific news’.
 
‘This funding pool allows poorer countries access to COVID vaccines they were otherwise very unlikely to get. The funding pool also gives Australians more vaccine options beyond the two we have already chosen,’ he said. ‘It’s both a generous and a really smart option.
 
‘I’m very pleased the Australian Government has taken this path. It gives us as a country the best chance of defeating COVID and it gives our neighbours the best chance of defeating COVID.
 
‘COVID isn’t over until it’s over for everybody.’
 
In another statement, Professor Crabb said ‘we should be proud to be part of this history-defining moment of cooperation and solidarity that ensures that in the race to be immunised against this virus, no one is left behind’.
 
University of New South Wales Adjunct Professor Bill Bowtell also welcomed the news as a ‘generous contribution that will save lives [and] avert illnesses among our regional neighbours and friends’.
 
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