The Australian Government is being urged to commit to further action to fight the COVID-19 pandemic in poor countries before the virus mutates and renders current vaccines ineffective.

A new report, A Shot of Hope – Australia’s role in vaccinating the World, which the Australian Global Health Alliance co-authored, notes that two-thirds of 77 epidemiologists surveyed in 28 developing countries believe if action is not taken now, it would take less than a year before the virus mutates.

The End COVID For All campaign, which released the report, said the key to preventing this is vaccinating the world. But as the report outlines, at the current rate, more than 19 low-income countries won’t reach 70 per cent vaccination until after 2030.

Professor Brendan Crabb AC, Chair of the Australian Global Health Alliance and Pacific Friends of Global Health, said this timeline was unacceptable, both morally and economically.

“It is ethically unconscionable for poorer countries to be on a 10-year vaccination timetable,” Professor Crabb said.

“Without vaccinating all peoples in all nations, we in rich countries will continue to face restricted trade, travel and the ever-present threat of new variants that threaten to repeat the pandemic cycle.

“Large waves of preventable suffering and death, disability, insecurity and lasting economic damage will be the terrible reality for nations with low incomes.

“The world investing AUD$50 billion now can avoid that outcome and will return vastly more. Australia must do its bit.”

COVID-19 vaccine doses by country income

Image: COVID-19 vaccines have not been distributed evenly. at the current rate, more than 19 low-income countries won’t reach 70 per cent vaccination until after 2030.

End COVID For All spokesperson, Reverend Tim Costello, said the lag time in vaccinating people in developing would give the virus more time to spread and mutate.

“That is why it is vital the Australian Government steps up and provides a fair share commitment of an additional AUD$250 million and 20 million vaccine doses to COVAX,” Reverend Costello said.

“COVAX is the only global initiative that is working with governments and manufacturers to ensure doses are available to both higher-income and lower-income countries who may not otherwise be able to procure vaccines on their own.

“The Delta strain, and the havoc it has wreaked across Australia, shows we cannot allow COVID to run rampant and mutate overseas.

“There will also be devastating economic consequences if we fail to act now. Even under the most optimistic scenario, we stand to lose between AUD$7.6 billion and AUD$33.7 billion of our GDP as result of inequitable vaccination and an unnecessary prolonging of the pandemic.

“And we cannot ignore the moral imperative we have to help our poorest neighbours. Just two per cent of people in low-income countries have received a first dose of a COVID vaccine.

“But with a concerted, realistic global push we can vaccinate nine in ten people across the world by the end of next year.”

Key recommendations from the A Shot of Hope Report include:

  • A fair share commitment to the global COVAX facility of AUD$250 million.
  • Make a commitment to share 20 million vaccines through the COVAX facility.
  • Commit to vaccine equity for all frontline workers and vulnerable groups around the world.
  • Commit AUD$50 million to addressing vaccine hesitancy.
  • Make a fair share commitment of AUD$170 million to the Rapid ACT-Accelerator Delta Response Appeal.
  • Invest in Australia becoming a vaccine factory for the region and support a technology transfer hub in the region.
  • Commit to contributing to the long-term COVID-19 recovery in our region and around the world.
  • Increase Australia’s overall aid commitment in response to the impact of the pandemic on global poverty and development.