Australia has committed an additional half a billion dollars to assist the procurement and rollout of COVID-19 vaccines to the Pacific and Southeast Asia, building upon hundreds of millions already pledged by the nation for international COVID-19 aid.
The federal government said on Saturday that the funding would go toward achieving “full immunisation coverage” across the Pacific, strengthening regional health systems and ensuring local health officials have the technical support they need to administer future vaccines safely.
The funds, distributed over three years, come on top of the $305 million COVID-19 aid package announced in early October.
According to Foreign Minister Marise Payne, the pledge is also separate to Australia’s official foreign aid budget.
"The Australian government is committed to supporting access to safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines for the Pacific and Southeast Asia, as part of a shared recovery for our region from the pandemic,” Payne, Minister for International Development and the Pacific Alex Hawke and Health Minister Greg Hunt said in a joint statement.
The leaders promised all vaccines would be assessed per World Health Organisation standards before distribution.
This $500 million package is incredible news for our neighbours and a wonderful display of leadership. 🌏— End COVID For All (@EndCOVIDForAll) October 30, 2020
Thanks to all who have advocated for this! 👏
And thank you to @ScottMorrisonMP@MarisePayne@AlexHawkeMP@GregHuntMPpic.twitter.com/GCfIKTRcZX
Matt Darvis, the campaign director for End COVID For All, a collective group of Australian organisations, including Global Citizen, which support the assistance of vulnerable nations amid COVID-19, said the new money would have profound national and international consequences.
"This commitment shows the best of who we are as a nation. A nation who is there for our neighbours in times of need,” Darvis said in a video posted to Twitter. “Not only will this announcement save countless lives, it will save millions of livelihoods and jobs too. And that’s not just for our neighbours, but for Australians too. A safe vaccine gives us the fastest pathway back to resuming safe tourism, travel and trade, kickstarting the economic recovery we all need for our region.”
Tim Costello, the executive director of non-profit Micah Australia, echoed Darvis’ comments.
"Today’s commitment provides hope for people in vulnerable nations who might otherwise have missed out on a vaccine,” he said in a press release. “This is profoundly important … morally correct and incredibly prudent.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has ravaged the Pacific and Southeast Asia.
Closed borders and travel restrictions have devastated Pacific economies, with the International Labour Organisation predicting millions of Pacific workers with previously stable incomes within the tourism industry could slide into poverty.
In Pacific nations like Fiji, the Cook Islands, Tonga and Samoa, tourism accounts for up to 30% of the economy.
Southeast Asian nations like Indonesia and the Philippines, meanwhile, continue to record substantial COVID-19 infection numbers, at 415,000 and 385,000 confirmed cases as of early November, respectively.
Australia’s new announcement follows a $123 million commitment to the COVAX Facility, a landmark agreement that ensures the world’s poorest gain equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines, and a separate $80 million to the Facility’s fund designed to help developing nations specifically.