The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) has urged the federal Government to step up COVID-19 vaccine dose donation efforts.
It comes following reports of GPs dumping thousands of COVID-19 vaccines as demand declines in many communities.
The $304.7 million Pacific support package is set to expire in June this year. This includes including $67 million in funding for Papua New Guinea, a nation which has been hit by successive COVID-19 outbreaks and widespread COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy.
Earlier this year, the RACGP was one of 70 health and business groups calling for the Federal Government to increase its financial commitment to vaccinating developing countries, particularly since Australia has donated less money to COVAX compared to other western nations.
RACGP President Clinical Professor Karen Price said that urgent action was needed.
“The federal Government is stepping up efforts to address dwindling demand and ensure that all eligible adults receive their initial vaccine doses, and booster dose as well as a winter booster dose for the eligible, but if there are unused doses that would otherwise go to waste, we should do everything possible to donate excess doses overseas,” she said.
“These vaccines will save lives and if we want to stop new variants and sub-variants emerging, which may be more transmissible or deadly, we can’t just vaccinate people in wealthy countries and hope the virus will go away.
“Putting our heads under the doona and focussing solely on vaccination rates in the developed world is a recipe for disaster. It’s all very well to have a 95% double dose vaccination rate in Australia, but in some developing countries the vast bulk of the population have not received a single vaccine dose.
“In Papua New Guinea only 3.5% of the population have received a single dose, with only 2.9% considered ‘fully vaccinated’. In the Democratic Republic of Congo that figure is a disheartening 1% with only 0.6% ‘fully vaccinated’. As long as this remains the case, the virus will continue circulating, mutating, and potentially becoming even more dangerous.
“The entire developed world, including Australia, needs to wake up and do much more to boost vaccination efforts in the developing world. This includes ensuring that excess stock isn’t simply thrown in the bin.
“It’s positive news that the Government dedicated $100 million to the Coalition for Epidemic Innovations or CEPI to help prevent further COVID-19 variants but we must go much further.
“In addition to donating excess doses, we should also contribute our fair share to the global COVAX initiative. I welcome the further $85 million for the COVAX Advance Market Commitment to provide the poorest 92 countries access to safe vaccines announced in last Tuesday’s budget.
“However, I back Tim Costello’s calls that we can and should go even further by increasing this investment from $85 million up to $250 million. The federal Government should also use our partnerships to tackle vaccine hesitancy by committing $50 million from the existing $532 million Vaccine Access and Health Security Initiative to address vaccine hesitancy in the Indo-Pacific.
“The time for action is now. This virus will thrive in any unvaccinated community anywhere in the world, it doesn’t respect international boundaries. An investment now will pay health and economic dividends into the future.
“If we only concern ourselves with boosting vaccination figures in the world’s wealthy nations, the COVID-19 pandemic will strike again and again. This isn’t a problem that is going to go away, let’s put our focus squarely on the developing world and contribute our fair share to a comprehensive global offensive against this virus.”