“Dangerously off track”: call for strengthening global equity in vaccines
Omicron’s increase highlights the risks posed to Australia by global immunization gaps, a high-level group said in a letter to the Prime Minister.
A group of prominent Australian scientists, healthcare and aid workers, and business leaders have written to Prime Minister Scott Morrison to ask for more funds to increase COVID-19 vaccination rates in the world.
Citing the rise of a worrying new variant as an example of what can happen when the virus goes unchecked, they expressed “grave concern” about global inequalities in vaccines.
Organizations represented in the open letter include the Business Council of Australia, the Australian Global Health Alliance, the Burnet Institute, the Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity, and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI).
They describe the G20’s commitments to fully immunize at least 40% of the world’s population by the end of 2021 and 70% by mid-2022 as “dangerously off track” and urge the federal government to step up existing efforts. .
“The emergence of Omicron shows how the virus mutates when left unchecked: more cases, more mutations and more chance of vaccine-resistant strains,” they write.
While acknowledging “the significant contributions to date”, they say the crisis “is far from over” and that more focus and investment is needed on the issue.
“We call for urgent further action from the Australian government to commit its fair share to immunize the world and further help our region,” they said.
Specifically, they requested an additional $ 250 million from the COVAX fund to help get vaccines to vulnerable areas, citing an overall vaccination rate of 3% as well as an increase in the number of cases in low-income countries.
‘It’s unfair, immoral, [and] dangerous for these communities and dangerous for Australia, ”they wrote.
“With the future, WHO [World Health Organization] predicts that there will be sufficient doses to meet global immunization targets if there is equitable distribution. ‘
They also asked for $ 50 million to counter vaccine reluctance in the Indo-Pacific, as well as $ 100 million for CEPI to prepare for any future pandemic.
Dr Rodney Pearce, a general practitioner from South Australia and current chairman of the Immunization Coalition (IC), believes it is imperative to do more ethically.
“We are in the luxurious position of having the vaccines available, and from that privileged position we should think about our place in the world and the ethics of that,” he said. gp news.
“It’s like all vaccine-preventable diseases. There is no difference with COVID. We can get polio here if it’s overseas, we can get measles if it’s overseas, and we can get COVID if it’s overseas.
As Australia achieves a surprisingly high rate of total immunization coverage, Dr Pearce also agrees that more investment is needed to tackle vaccine reluctance beyond the country’s borders.
“The other systems do not have a strong primary care infrastructure in general medicine,” he said.
“Reluctance is always an international issue. For years in the vaccine community we’ve always had a debate… about the reasons people don’t get vaccinated, the rumors, the myths.
“And in every community it’s community specific things that they need, they need a relationship with someone they trust.”
Reverend Tim Costello is the spokesperson for the End COVID For All campaign, which brought together the organizations that wrote the open letter.
He said there are clear examples of how the Australian government has helped roll out vaccination in the region – and now those efforts need to be scaled up even further.
“We have seen the power of Australia’s contributions to our neighbors like Fiji, where over 90% of the eligible population is now fully vaccinated and the Delta epidemic has been brought under control for now,” he said. declared.
“As we have seen time and time again throughout this pandemic, COVID does not respect regional borders, so we must extend our support beyond our immediate Pacific neighborhood.
“Investing in the global COVAX facility will help ensure that doses are available to low-income countries who may not be able to afford doses on their own. “
Dr Pearce also said there is a way for individuals to help, citing a call made earlier this year by the IC for Australians to donate to UNICEF to fund doses of vaccine in local communities. low income regions of the world. So far, over $ 87,000 has been donated through the IC appeal.
“It’s not just about Australia, it’s about keeping the world disease-free,” Dr Pearce said. “No one is released from it until everyone is released from it. “
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