COVID mutation fears as vaccine rates lag in poorer nations

By Melissa Coade

Monday October 11, 2021

Tim Costello said Australia’s experience with the more virulent and fatal Delta strain of the COVID-19 virus must be avoided in developing nations.
Tim Costello has welcomed the increase in foreign aid flagged by the Labor policy. (AAP Image/Mick Tsikas)

The expert view is it would take less than a year for the coronavirus to mutate again, a new survey of epidemiologists from developing countries has found.

The survey of 77 epidemiologists was published in a report produced by the campaign group ‘End COVID for all’. 

Campaign spokesperson Tim Costello said Australia’s experience with the more virulent and fatal Delta strain of the COVID-19 virus must be avoided in developing nations.

“The longer we allow developing countries to lag in terms of vaccination rates, the more time we give the virus to mutate and spread,” Costello said. 

“There will also be devastating economic consequences if we fail to act now. Even under the most optimistic scenario, we stand to lose between AUD 7.6 billion and AUD 33.7 billion  of our GDP as result of inequitable vaccination and an unnecessary prolonging of the pandemic.”

The campaign’s new report, entitled Shot of hope, offers recommendations to prevent some of the foreseeable worst-case scenarios of the pandemic including: that Australia invest in establishing itself as a ‘vaccine factory’ for the Asia Pacific region and support local technology transfer hub. It also calls on the government to increase Australia’s overall aid commitment in response to the impact of the pandemic on global poverty and development. 

Other issues of concern for the report are Australia’s commitment to the long-term post pandemic recovery in the region, and an opportunity to give at least AUD$170 million to the World Health Organization’s Rapid ACT-Accelerator Delta Response Appeal.

‘End COVID for all’ also warns that at current vaccine distribution rates, it will likely be another nine years before more than 19 low-income countries have achieved a 70% vaccination coverage — in 2030. 

Costello said that the international COVAX scheme, which had aimed to deliver 2 billion doses of the COVID vaccine to developing nations by the end of 2021, was the only initiative that was bringing manufacturers and governments together to ensure some fairer allocation of shots to nations in need — not just those with greater purchasing power.

“We cannot ignore the moral imperative we have to help our poorest neighbours. Just 2% of people in low income countries have received a first dose of a COVID vaccine.

“That is why it is vital the Australian Government steps up and provides a fair share commitment of an additional $250 million and 20 million vaccine doses to COVAX,” Costello said. 

The campaign group has called on the federal government to make what it says is a ‘fairer share’ to the COVAX facility with a contribution of at least AUD $250 million and to share at least 20 million vaccines through the program. It also wants the Australian government to stump up AUD$50 million to help combat vaccine hesitancy in developing countries.

“The last thing we want, on Freedom Day in NSW, is the prospect of further deaths and lockdowns because we didn’t do all that we could to vaccinate the world,” Costello added.

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