Australia will send at least 10,000 locally manufactured AstraZeneca vaccines to Pacific nations every week, a move the nation's Foreign Minister Marise Payne says will allow the region to "vaccinate quickly their highest-risk populations at a time when the international supply of vaccines is constrained."
The doses, to be manufactured in Melbourne, will initially be distributed throughout Papua New Guinea and Timor-Leste, which are enduring significant COVID-19 outbreaks.
Fiji, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu will receive doses in the coming weeks once domestic production is scaled up.
"Our region's health security and economic recovery are intertwined with our own," Payne said in a media release. "Our vaccine support initiative, alongside ongoing public health measures, will help neighbouring countries protect their populations and restart their economies."
As of April 19, Timor-Leste has recorded 1,306 COVID-19 cases and two deaths.
The vast majority of cases have been identified since January 2021, with a key spike occurring in March.
Around the same time, the tiny nation was struck by Tropical Cyclone Seroja, which destroyed critical medical infrastructure and claimed 45 lives. On April 5, the first batch of 24,000 COVID-19 vaccines touched down in the nation thanks to the global vaccine sharing alliance, COVAX.
🇦🇺 is proud to partner with #COVAX to deliver safe and effective vaccines to our friends in the Indo-Pacific. Congratulations @Gavi and the US @SecBlinken for a successful launch of the COVAX AMC Investment Opportunity.@GaviSeth@AusAmbRHSpic.twitter.com/sgy1X1xmHp— Marise Payne (@MarisePayne) April 16, 2021
The COVID-19 situation in Papua New Guinea, which erupted in early March, remains critical.
Almost 10,000 cases have been reported throughout Australia's closest neighbour, which has overwhelmed and collapsed the nation's health system, home to just 500 doctors and fewer than 4,000 nurses.
Marc Purcell, the Australian Council for International Development CEO, said the weekly 10,000 vaccine injection will be essential for Papua New Guinea and is a welcome addition to the 8,480 doses, medical equipment and medical staff sent by Australia already.
The new doses will also sit alongside 132,000 AstraZeneca vaccines delivered by COVAX on April 13.
Just under 600,000 COVAX-sourced vaccines are expected by June.
"The Australian government is swinging behind our friends in Papua New Guinea. This is another critical step to tackling the epidemic," Purcell said. "Australia's support for the health systems and the supply of equipment, like testing kits, will be critical in keeping health facilities going and getting a better grasp on the transmission of the virus.”