Advocacy groups call for Australia to spend more on COVAX fund

By Melissa Coade

Friday January 21, 2022

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)

Quashing COVID variants requires vaccinating more of the world’s population, and some of the leading global health and aid organisations are calling on Australia to help the global push to distribute more shots to poorer nations.

According to campaign group End COVID For All, Australia must stump up another $250 million to help the program meet demand in low-income countries. 

Spokesperson Tim Costello said that without ongoing support to upkeep the momentum of the COVAX facility, the COVID-19 virus would certainly mutate into more transmissible and vaccine-resistant forms.

“On average, a major new variant has been detected every four months since the WHO characterised COVID-19 as a pandemic,” Costello said. 

“Omicron emerged in a largely unvaccinated South Africa and Delta emerged in a largely unvaccinated India. Another variant of concern will no doubt arise unless we ramp up global vaccination efforts.”

In June last year, prime minister Scott Morrison announced that Australia would boost its commitment to COVAX Advance Market Commitment (COVAX AMC) by another $50 million. This brought Australia’s total financial support for the initiative to $130 million.

The program has already delivered more than a billion doses to 144 countries and territories but on Thursday COVAX said that another US$5.2 billion ($250 million being Australia’s proportion of this requested sum) was needed by March 2022 to continue delivering vaccines to low-income countries. That money would secure approximately 600 million doses of the COVID vaccine to ensure frontline workers and vulnerable populations had access to a ‘reliable supply’ of shots.

According to Costello, only 9.6% of people in low-income countries have received at least one dose of the vaccine so far. At current rates of worldwide vaccination, he said some African countries were unlikely to reach 70% coverage until after 2030.

“Everyone wants this pandemic to end but without a concerted global effort, it won’t,” Costello said.

“For a fraction of what we are spending on new tanks and nuclear submarines, we can help vaccinate the world, save hundreds of thousands of lives and prevent losing years of development gains we have helped to achieve.”

A joint initiative of the World Health Organisation (WHO), the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations and (CEPI), GAVI and the Vaccine Alliance, and working with UNICEF as a delivery partner, the program is focused on rapid, fair and equitable access to vaccine doses so that doses from pharmaceutical partners could be produced at scale as soon as vaccine candidates received regulatory approval. 

COVAX was established to ensure that safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines reached the world’s high-risk and vulnerable populations in 92 low- and middle-income countries and economies. The idea is that the scheme pools funds from wealthier countries to help buy vaccines for themselves and low-income nations.

With the next federal budget on the horizon, groups like Costello’s want the government to take $50 million from the existing $523 million Vaccine Access and Health Security Initiative to tackle vaccine hesitancy in the Indo-Pacific. They say that Australia should also commit another $100 million to the CEPI replenishment.

“This is a global catastrophe and Australia not only has a moral obligation to play its part, but the health and safety of our nation depends on it,” Costello said.


Questions as to whether COVAX is benefiting wealthy countries like Australia over developing nations

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