Prime Minister Scott Morrison has left the door open to the possibility of sending Australian-made AstraZeneca vaccines to Papua New Guinea and the Australian Medical Association has called on him to act.
Australia’s nearest neighbour is battling a worsening COVID-19 outbreak, with more than 5000 cases since February, including 500 in one week in March.
This week, former PNG Governor and aviation pioneer, Malcolm Smith, died in a Brisbane hospital from COVID.
AMA President, Dr Omar Khorshid, said the rapid increase in reported infections and deaths across PNG is alarming, particularly given the likelihood of undetected infections and underreported deaths, making the need to support PNG’s vaccination effort even more urgent and vital.
“Low testing rates mean this figure is likely much higher,” Dr Khorshid said, “In a country with limited health resources, this is a serious risk to all of us. Supplying our near neighbour with some of our domestically manufactured AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines is simply the right thing to do.”
“We need to ensure that vaccine supplies to Papua New Guinea are sufficient to prevent a health crisis worsening into a humanitarian crisis.” Dr Khorshid added, “And the reality is this will also help with our COVID-19 efforts. Over the past few weeks, we’ve seen many of the cases of COVID-19 in hotel quarantine originating from Papua New Guinea, and sadly one death in a Brisbane hospital.”
“We know that positive cases in hotel quarantine can, and will, leak into the Australian community – this is not a virus that abides by borders.
“With one million doses soon to be produced now being locally produced each week, there is the capacity to send a regular and modest amount to Papua New Guinea, while helping our quarantine efforts at the same time.
“The release of a steady flow of doses will not have a great impact on our vaccination program but will make a huge difference to the Papua New Guinea community and the safety of the region.
“The COVID-19 outbreak in Papua New Guinea is a sobering reminder that the pandemic is far from over. Australia has had one of the best responses globally, but we are still vulnerable to outbreaks in our region.”
In mid-March, Australia dispatched 8,000 AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines to PNG, and Prime Minister Morrison has requested European authorities to direct one million doses of Australia’s contracted AstraZeneca supplies to Papua New Guinea.
But the delays in Europe acting on the request mean Australia must take a leadership role in the region using our domestic supply.
At a press conference on Wednesday, Prime Minister Morrison said the Government is working closely with PNG and is considering all options, but he stopped short of confirming that more Australian-made vaccines would be sent.
“Well, we obviously want those million doses [from Europe] … If that doesn’t occur, then we have been working with a number of other partners around the world to see how we can address that and we’re also considering what it might mean for Australia’s provision of doses directly. But those issues haven’t been finalised yet,” he said.
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