The federal government has promised to start distributing more COVID-19 vaccines to Pacific Island countries later this month as Papua New Guinea and Timor-Leste battle a major outbreak.
- Several Pacific Island countries have also started vaccination programs using doses from the COVAX facility.
- Papua New Guinea will receive more than 130,000 vaccines from COVAX next week.
- Aid groups have welcomed support for PNG, and the government’s pledge to launch a vaccine in other Melanesian countries
A government spokesman told the ABC that 10,000 doses of AstraZeneca produced locally will be sent to the region every week, starting April 19.
That figure will increase over time as Australia increases its production capacity at the CSL factory in Melbourne.
The announcement was marked by Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Friday afternoon.
The government will prioritize Papua New Guinea and Timor-Leste, which are grappling with the rapidly increasing cases of COVID-19.
After that, the government will focus on sending more vaccines to other Melanesian countries, including Vanuatu, Solomon Islands and Fiji.
The government had previously said it would send vaccines to Polynesian countries, although it was unclear when the launch would reach those countries.
Several Pacific Island countries – including Fiji, Solomon Islands, and Timor-Leste – have also started dosing vaccination programs from the COVAX facility.
Papua New Guinea will receive more than 130,000 vaccines from COVAX next week.
But officials remain deeply concerned about the widespread spread of COVID-19 in the country, where there is widespread community transmission.
PNG briefly halted the rollout of 8,000 Australian-donated vaccines on Friday while authorities updated consent forms in response to changing Australian advice on using AstraZeneca for people under 50.
Vaccinations had resumed on Friday afternoon and PNG officials said the launch would continue over the weekend.
“We will continue to launch AstraZeneca vaccinations to ensure our people are safe and that is the main thing. AstraZeneca is here to ensure that COVID-19 is contained,” Health Minister Jelta Wong told ABC.
However, PNG officials stressed that they will continue to roll out the vaccine over the weekend.
Australia also flew a second emergency medical team to Papua New Guinea on Friday, along with additional medical supplies.
Aid groups have welcomed support for PNG, as well as government pledges to launch a vaccine in other Melanesian countries.
“The Australian government is supporting our friends in PNG. This is another important step towards tackling the epidemic,” said the head of the Australian Council for International Development, Marc Purcell.
ACFID continues to pressure the government to increase its efforts to combat COVID-19 in the region, citing a poll which found that 84 percent of Australians support measures to stop the spread of the virus in Papua New Guinea.