Australia has pledged $80 million to a global push to ensure any future coronavirus vaccine is distributed cheaply and fairly in developing countries in the Pacific and South East Asia.
But aid groups have labelled the move to reallocate the funding for the COVAX AMC initiative out of the existing aid budget as "deeply disappointing".
Vanuatu, which was hit by a cyclone in April, will be among the countries to benefit from Australia’s funding commitment.Credit:World Vision
The Morrison government wants to make sure countries in the region have affordable access to a COVID-19 vaccine amid a global race to develop a vaccine.
The Morrison government has been particularly concerned about Papua New Guinea, which has experienced a small wave of confirmed cases in recent months, as well as Indonesia which is recording thousands of new cases every day.
China has been administering a coronavirus vaccine candidate to selected groups of workers since July, while the United States and Russia have also been spending billions of dollars into their bids to develop a vaccine.
Marc Purcell, chief executive of the Australian Council for International Development, said the Australian government had taken a positive step with the global community in signing up to the COVAX AMC, a finance facility designed to ensure equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines.
"It is deeply disappointing that this will come from existing budgets. This risks development gains and compromises existing partnerships in the region," Mr Purcell said.
"The aid program has seen more slicing and dicing than a chef's kitchen. New resources are required."
Pacific Friends of Global Health Board chair Brendan Crabb said vaccinating everyone in the region was essential, not just to protect those in need but also in the interests of developed nations such as Australia.
"Vaccines are not magic force shields for individuals, none of us are safe until everyone’s safe," he said.
In a statement, Foreign Minister Marise Payne, Health Minister Greg Hunt and International Development Minister Alex Hawke said the funding commitment would help secure COVID-19 vaccines for Pacific Island and South East Asian countries.
"The AMC will address the acute phase of the pandemic, providing doses for up to 20 percent of countries’ populations in its first phase, ensuring that health care workers and vulnerable groups, such as the elderly, have access," the ministers said.
"Access to vaccines will play a critical role in the economic recovery of our region from this pandemic."
The Pacific countries eligible for COVAX AMC support will include Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, Fiji, Samoa, Tonga, Tuvalu and Kiribati. Eligible countries in South East Asia will include Indonesia, Timor-Leste, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, The Philippines and Vietnam.
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