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Australia's Prime Minister Scott Morrison has vowed to supply a COVID-19 vaccine to the Pacific and regional partners in Southeast Asia, should Australia successfully establish a local manufacturing chain.

Last week, Canberra secured an agreement with AstraZeneca, a drug company that has a potential COVID-19 vaccine in phase three trials at Oxford University. Should the trial prove successful, the new deal will also see every Australian receive the mandatory vaccine for free. 

Morrison said it was clear Australia has both a domestic and regional responsibility in regards to vaccine distribution.

"It's a partnership with our family in the Pacific, and the rest of the world looks on Australia as providing that support to developing countries in our own region,” Morrison stated, according to the ABC. "We have a regional role to play here as well as a domestic role to play here, and we will be living up to all of those responsibilities.”  

Australian aid and development organisations have applauded the government’s support for the region.

The Australian Council for International Development (ACFID), however, highlighted the importance of funding the potential regional vaccine rollout through new foreign aid funds, as opposed to draining the existing, ever-shrinking aid budget.

"Australia's development cooperation program has built the connections to help roll out this vaccine to the region. But we have reached the end of repurposing the aid budget," CEO of ACFID Marc Purcell said in a media release. "In order to do this effectively, new resources are required. Otherwise, we risk running down other critical areas of development cooperation and compromising existing relationships."

Activists have similarly called attention to the fact that the new deal falls into ‘vaccine nationalism.’

Vaccine nationalism refers to an agreement between counties and vaccine manufacturers or developers that sees nations prioritise their domestic markets and citizens before vaccines are made available in other nations. 

According to World Health Organisation (WHO) Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, not everyone in high-income nations needs the vaccine first. Instead, the vaccine should firstly be distributed to the most exposed 20% of each country's population, including front-line health workers, adults over 65 and people with pre-existing conditions.

The second phase of distribution should then focus on nations at greatest risk from the spread of COVID-19.

"The fastest way to end this pandemic and to reopen economies is to start by protecting the highest risk populations everywhere, rather than the entire populations of just some countries," Dr. Tedros told a virtual press conference. “While there is a wish amongst leaders to protect their own people first, the response to this pandemic has to be collective.”

The WHO has called for every nation to join its COVAX Global Vaccines Facility, the vaccine pillar of the Access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator, which seeks to ensure the fair and equitable global distribution of COVID-19 vaccines. 


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Australia Vows to Supply Asia-Pacific With COVID-19 Vaccine Once Available

By Madeleine Keck