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CovaxMELISSA COADE
| The Mandarin | Edited extracts

MELBOURNE - A global initiative to deliver two billion doses of Covid-19 vaccine to developing nations by the end of the year is half a billion doses short as reports emerge that Australia took hundreds of thousands of Pfizer doses from the Covax stockpile for domestic needs.

Covax was established to ensure that safe and effective Covid-19 vaccines reached the world’s high-risk and vulnerable populations in 92 low-middle income countries and economies.

The idea is that the scheme pools funds from wealthier countries to help buy vaccines for themselves and low-income nations.

By ensuring equitable access to vaccines, the promise of the program is that the virus is not circulating globally longer than it has to be, limiting its potential to become more dangerous with the emergence of new variants.

A joint initiative of the World Health Organisation (WHO) and other agencies, the program provides rapid, fair and equitable access to vaccine doses as soon as vaccine candidates received regulatory approval.

Among the vaccines approved by WHO are Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson, Moderna, AstraZeneca, Sinopharm and Sinovac.

Equal access to Covid-19 vaccines, regardless of any state’s ability to pay, “is the only global solution to this pandemic”, says an explainer video for the program.

But for participating wealthy nations, Covax is also pitched as an “invaluable insurance policy” to protect its citizens “both directly and indirectly”.

According to reports by the Sydney Morning Herald, it appears that so far participating in Covax has worked mostly in Australia’s benefit.

As proof, critics point to Covax remaining half a billion doses behind its goal.

In June, the Australian government tried to purchase 25 million doses for $123 million (K310 million) from the global Covax facility when it was desperate to procure more of the Pfizer vaccine.

While Australia was only able to secure 500,000 doses from that bumper order, the allocation of Covax jabs to Australia was double what all of Africa received in the same month.

Australian Council for International Development chief executive Marc Purcell told the Herald that, although the Covax facility was open to countries in genuine need, it was clear that Australia’s neighbours in Indonesia, the Philippines and Malaysia should take priority.

“There’s obviously been desperation to get the preferable vaccine, Pfizer, from any sources into Australia,” Purcell said.

“But we can’t forget that our fortunes are tied up with reducing and eradicating Covid in the developing countries that surround Australia.”

In addition to sending doses of AstraZeneca to East Timor, Fiji and Papua New Guinea, Australia has donated $130 million (K330 million) towards the Covax scheme to support developing countries in our region.

The Covax scheme has two streams of vaccine supply — one for developing nations, and another for wealthier countries to buy vaccines if domestic supplies are running low.

Labor’s foreign affairs spokesperson, Penny Wong, called on the prime minister to be “straight with the people” of Australia if he wanted them to have much more confidence in the vaccine rollout.

“If Mr Morrison has had to resort to accessing vaccines intended for developing countries, he should be upfront about that,” Ms Wong said.

“Of course, if Mr Morrison had done his job last year and secured sufficient supplies, we wouldn’t be in this position.”

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