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The Australian government has committed $80 million to a ground-breaking global collaboration that guarantees equitable and affordable access to a future COVID-19 vaccine for the world’s poorest nations.

The COVAX AMC collaboration — developed by the World Health Organisation, Gavi, The Vaccine Alliance and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations — hopes to secure US$2 billion in donor funding by the end of the year in order to deliver two billion potential COVID-19 vaccine doses by 2021.

The initiative has already secured over A$830 million thanks to donors like Australia, Italy and the United Kingdom. 

In a statement, Foreign Minister Marise Payne, Health Minister Greg Hunt and Minister for International Development and the Pacific Alex Hawke said it is vital a potential vaccine is available for all nations, not just those that can afford to purchase and manufacture them themselves. 

The ministers confirmed the initiative would target Australia’s closest neighbours in the Pacific and Southeast Asia.

"Australia’s contribution of $80 million will help secure COVID-19 vaccines for Pacific Island and Southeast Asian countries,” a press release from the ministers read. “Access to vaccines will play a critical role in the economic recovery of our region from this pandemic.”

Nations identified as having limited resources to access a future COVID-19 vaccine — and therefore eligible for COVAX AMC support — include Kiribati, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu, Samoa, Papua New Guinea, Fiji and Vanuatu.

Cambodia, Laos, Indonesia, Timor-Leste, Vietnam, Myanmar and the Philippines are also eligible. 

Aid and development organisations claim the new pledge will dually benefit the world’s poorest and Australian self-interest. 

"Vaccinating all those in our region is essential, not just to protect those in need who deserve rich country support, but it is also in our enlightened self-interest,” Pacific Friends of Global Health Chair Brendan Crabb told the Burnet Institute. “It is important [to note] that in low-income settings, COVID-19 is likely to cause far more suffering from other diseases than from COVID-19 itself. Health systems just can’t cope.”

Crabb, however, said he is frustrated to see the funding pulled from the existing Australian aid budget.

“We desperately hope that new and additional funds will be committed to the aid budget to fund this and other COVID-19 commitments for the region because we know that deaths from malaria, tuberculosis and HIV have already been increasing due to the diversion of testing and workforce attention to COVID-19 in countries such as Papua New Guinea,” Crabb stated.

Marc Purcell, the chief executive of the Australian Council for International Development, likewise said the move was "deeply disappointing.”

"It is deeply disappointing that this will come from existing budgets. This risks development gains and compromises existing partnerships in the region," Purcell said, according to the ABC.

The federal government's commitment follows a separate A$300 million pledge to Gavi in June.

The COVAX AMC pledge also comes just days after Australia secured a deal that ensures every Australian will receive a free COVID-19 vaccine if current trials at Oxford University prove successful.

If a local manufacturing chain can be established, Australia vowed to supply the vaccine directly to the Pacific. 


Defeat Poverty

Australia Commits $80 Million to Help Ensure the World’s Poorest Receive COVID-19 Vaccines

By Madeleine Keck