SYDNEY - Two of Australia’s top infectious disease and immunology experts say Papua New Guinea should take up the offer of Chinese-made vaccines if they are safe, as Europe threatens to withhold vaccine deliveries and PNG teeters on the edge of a Covid-19 disaster.
China has made repeated overtures to Papua New Guinea in recent months, offering to send vaccines to the country to “support each other’s core interests”.
China’s foreign ministry said it has supplied the Sinovac and Sinopharm vaccines to 69 countries including Cambodia, Serbia and Indonesia.
Urging Australia and the West to put politics aside for the sake of global health, Sydney University professor Robert Booy and ANU professor Peter Collignon said PNG should take whatever vaccines it could secure.
“The Chinese vaccines are becoming better understood and the information coming out suggests that they are safe and effective,” said Booy, the former head of clinical research at the National Centre for Immunisation.
“Provided the confirmation of their safety by the WHO, their use in south-east Asia and the Pacific seems reasonable to me.”
Said Collignon, a committee adviser to the World Health Organisation: “If China has a good vaccine that is quality assured, it is silly not to allow that vaccine to be rolled out”.
The intervention from the two Australian experts comes after PNG doctors reported the hospital system was at breaking point, with wards overwhelmed by patients and scores of healthcare workers infected with the virus.
Miner Ok Tedi announced it was suspending its operations at its $1 billion mine on Thursday due to the outbreak to “protect its workforce, communities and operation”.
Australia’s former ambassador to PNG, Ian Kemish, said “it’s like a dam has been breached”.
“Health facilities are close to being overwhelmed in Port Moresby, medical staff are being struck down and 50% of one batch of PNG swabs tested in Brisbane last week were positive,” he said in comments first published by The Conversation on Thursday.
But the adjunct professor at the University of Queensland added that he still believed Australia was the only nation capable of aiding the distribution of vaccines to the broader population in Australia’s closest neighbour.
Booy said the ongoing outbreak in PNG posed a threat to Australia’s own coronavirus containment efforts.
“There is free traffic and trade across northern Australia and it is not very easily controlled,” he said.