Health worker in Papua New Guinea. Image tweeted by Natalie Whiting, ABC PNG Correspondent
Medical research institutes, including Burnet, have joined NGOs and Church groups in seeking strong, additional support for PNG’s COVID-19 emergency from the Australian Government, warning the intervention is “urgently” needed.
The Australian Council for International Development, ACFID, of which Burnet is a committed member, has welcomed the recent indication in Senate Estimates that the Australian Government will move beyond the immediate 8,480 allocation of vaccines to PNG.
ACFID CEO Marc Purcell said comments by the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Senator, the Hon. Marise Payne, that all options are on the table for supplying vaccines to PNG, including the use of domestically manufactured AstraZeneca vaccines, was positive, but the need was urgent.
“The Australian Government is absolutely right to be pressing the EU on this matter, but the situation is too urgent to wait. We are seeing cases rise in Queensland as travellers return from PNG and with numbers increasing in Western Province, the prospect of transmission across the Torres Strait is now a major risk.
“We are seeking for the Australian Government to plan ahead and match its request to the EU by allocating 1 million domestically manufactured vaccines to PNG and rapidly support their rollout.
“We should not assume that the new strain of COVID-19 circulating in PNG is the last to emerge. Each time a new strain develops, the efficacy of existing vaccines comes into question. Crushing the virus in PNG is the best thing we can do right now, for PNG and for Australia.”
In recent days, ACFID has written to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and requested the Australian Government immediately increase the number of vaccines to PNG to 20,000, and that it continues to increase the availability of its stocks to PNG over the coming weeks to meet the needs of frontline workers.
“We are deeply concerned for the people of PNG. Our members are reporting that their staff are falling sick with COVID-19. Increasing the immediate allocation of Australia’s own vaccine stocks to PNG is critical to keeping hospitals, local clinics and essential services going,” he said.
A public health expert says Australia should prioritise vaccinating Papua New Guineans over its own general population, as PNG continues to grapple with a surge in cases.
Burnet’s Director and CEO, Professor Brendan Crabb AC said he totally agreed with the call by Professor Linda Selvey from the University of Queensland on ABC Radio National’s Pacific Beat program.
“This is not just in the interests of our great friend PNG to whom we owe so much, it is in our self interest. Our health and economic interests. It’s even in the interests of our own vaccine program,” Professor Crabb said. It’s really not over for anyone until it’s over for everyone."
Burnet is a committed member of ACFID.