As Papua New Guinea readies to receive its first 588,000 doses of the AstraZeneca Covid vaccine at the end of March, provided through the global Gavi philanthropic consortium, Australia continues to try to get on top of its own supply problems - KJ
ADELAIDE - Australia has committed about $200 million to procuring and distributing Covid-19 vaccine to its Pacific neighbours, including PNG and Timor L’Este, over the next two years.
This is why CSL in Australia has been tasked with producing 50 million doses of the Astra Zeneca vaccine, with the option of producing many more if necessary.
Worldwide, many billions of dollars have been spent to develop a number of vaccines in record time.
This cost has been, partly at least, subsidised or underwritten by various governments including the UK, USA, Australia, Canada, India, China and many others.
The intellectual property for the vaccines remains with the inventors and manufacturers, not with those governments.
A demand that those rights be simply handed over to whoever wants or needs them would be totally at odds with the development of centuries old legal requirements around property rights.
Instead, governments of various persuasions have opted to distribute vaccine to poorer or less technologically capable countries through various means, including the Covax program being implemented under the auspices of the World Health Organisation.
It is by no means clear that simply handing over the property rights to anyone who held up their hand would necessarily speed up the process of manufacturing and delivering the vaccine.
The production process is but one element in a long supply chain and probably not the key determinant of how quickly the vaccine can be distributed.
A country's wish to prioritise its own population above others seems to me to be quite understandable and logical.
Basically, you have to save yourself first before you can turn towards helping others.
Many of the purportedly selfish countries like Italy or France or the UK have suffered tremendous harm as a consequence of the pandemic and their politicians are under enormous pressure to stop the pain.
This is the context for their decision making in relation to the distribution of the vaccine.
Australia has, comparatively speaking, done remarkably well in managing its response to the pandemic so as to minimise the harms done.
That said, there still has been serious personal and economic damage and federal and state governments are determined to push on with the national vaccine program first and foremost.
There are no political or economic rewards in prioritising other countries first.
Some people may find this political calculus repugnant but it reflects a rational response to the situation.
I think the author is right to say that one consequence of this policy is that herd immunity on a global scale is not going to be easily achieved within a two-year time frame, maybe much longer.
So the pandemic will roll on and more people will be harmed or die despite the best efforts of just about everybody to bring it under control.
This debacle should teach us about how cooperation and collaboration always trumps competition when a crisis arises.
Unfortunately, thus far at least, the evidence that this lesson has been learned is pretty thin.