| Pearls & Irritations | Edited extracts
SYDNEY - While Australia embarks on third booster shots, the vaccination rate in Papua New Guinea is less than two percent.
What does that say about being a good neighbour?
Well, look at these quotes:
“The Therapeutic Goods Administration has approved booster doses of the Pfizer vaccine for people aged 18 years and older, six months after their second dose”
“In high-income countries, over 60 per cent of people have had at least one vaccine dose, compared to around four percent in low income countries”
“Despite production forecasts of up to 12 billion doses being produced by the end of 2021, 92 low- and middle- income countries representing half of the global population — will have access to just 1.2 billion doses.”
These three statements do not sit comfortably together. Can we explore how we might contribute to resolving the Covid-19 pandemic with countries in greatest need of help?
While there is still work to be done, the vaccination program in Australia has undoubtedly been successful, with more than 86% of us over 16 years old having had at least one dose.
For half the country, borders, offices, cafes, restaurants and even airports are reopening and a sense of relief and optimism for a ‘normal’ Christmas is palpable.
These are wonderful developments to be celebrated. People in the public health world have a lot to be proud of and an enormous amount of virus-caused disease and death has been prevented.
Among some of our own neighbours, things are dire.
Vaccination rates (including those only single dosed) in PNG are less than two percent, Solomon Islands 17%, East Timor 39%, Indonesia 41%, Kiribati 44% and Tonga 47%.
Two fundamental problems exist. The first is supply and access to the vaccine. The second is the capacity and infrastructure to administer the vaccine program. Australia is contributing on both counts.
On the international front, the Australian government has joined the COVAX facility as part of a global effort to support rapid, fair and equitable access to Covid vaccines. We are part of the more wealthy 90 nations who put money on the table via COVAX.
As of 28 October, Australian-shared doses numbered 5.9 million, with a commitment to share 60 million doses with the Indo-Pacific by the end of 2022.
There is a strong case to be made that AstraZenca vaccine manufacturing in Australia should not be discontinued. Instead ramping up production would help ensure equitable access to vaccines.
These commitments may well be influenced by regional politics and the desire to prevent China being seen as the benevolent neighbour who may wish to wield political influence in the future.
Apart from being the right thing to do, it is also in our interests to accelerate the rate of vaccination of the rest of the world.
What about the idea that Australia commit to a ‘one-for-one’ policy? For every booster dose that Australia plans to administer, we commit to making one dose available for another country.
Not just those who we wish to influence — but through COVAX mechanism which goes to those most in need.
Such a policy is easy to understand, is in our own interest and will boost our commitment to see the rest of the word come out of the pandemic more quickly that we might if we leave market forces to dominate.
So, the message is: Keep going at home and one-for-one for our mates as defined by the rest of the world.
Looks like a pretty good foreign policy to us.
Terry Slevin is CEO of the Public Health Association of Australia, and an expert commentator on public health research, chronic disease prevention and health promotion