Australia to donate 20 million AstraZeneca doses to billion-vaccine pledge

Australia will donate 20 million doses of locally made AstraZeneca vaccines to Asian and Pacific nations as part of a global plan to deliver one billion doses to nations seeking urgent help confronting the pandemic.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who arrived in Britain on Friday for the G7 summit, pledged the minute he landed in Britain that Australia would ship desperately needed doses to countries across the region, countering Chinese efforts to use vaccine exports to build its influence in the Pacific.

“Australia will be doing its part, as we already have been, committing some 20 million doses as part of that effort here at the G7 Plus in Cornwall,” Mr Morrison said.

“These 20 million doses will go support our region to ensure that we continue to exercise our responsibility as part of a broader global responsibility to combat this virus.”

Prime Minister Scott Morrison in the CSL vaccine plant in Melbourne in February. Credit:Getty Images

Speaking shortly after landing on Friday night, AEDT, Mr Morrison said the new pledge was in addition to Australia’s commitment with Japan to invest $US100 million in the COVAX initiative, a non-profit group that distributes coronavirus vaccines worldwide.

But Australia is unlikely to start sending doses overseas until it can be sure the domestic vaccination rollout is largely complete for people over 50 in the coming months.

The progress on the domestic rollout is expected to free up more of the roughly one million AstraZeneca doses produced each week by CSL in Melbourne for export.

At the same time, the government is forecasting a big increase in Pfizer imports to about 600,000 doses per week for people under 50.

The G7 project seeks to “supercharge” vaccine production and export to help vulnerable countries including Australian neighbours such as Fiji and Papua New Guinea, amid warnings the virus will continue to spread for years.

The host of the G7 talks, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, said as he promised to donate 100 million British doses that he hoped for “similar pledges” from other leaders at the summit in Cornwall.

US President Joe Biden said there were “no strings attached” on the US vow to supply 500 million Pfizer doses to the world, starting in August.

“Our vaccine donations don’t include pressure for favours or potential concessions. We’re doing this to save lives, to end this pandemic,” Mr Biden said at Tregenna Castle Resort in Cornwall.

The US commitment is to ship 200 million doses from August to the end of this year, followed by 300 million in the first half of next year.

Mr Biden named the “quad” alliance with Australia, Japan, India and the US as part of the collective effort against the pandemic, signalling the importance of the group in the growing strategic competition with China in the Indo-Pacific.

China has two major vaccine producers, Sinopharm and Sinovac, and has supplied dozens of countries including friendly nations such as Cambodia but lost out against India to supply Nepal and Sri Lanka.

Beijing on Friday urged Taiwan to accept Chinese vaccines to tackle its current outbreak, but the island is instead relying on shipments yet to arrive from Japan and the US.

COVAX co-chair Jane Halton, a former secretary of the federal health department, backed the G7 commitments and the proposal to use the non-profit initiative to distribute many of the vaccines.

“The COVAX mechanism is the most effective way to deliver vaccines urgently to the world to bring the acute phase of the pandemic to an end,” she said.

“So we are delighted with the US announcement that they’re going to provide vaccines and we hope the other economies will contribute similarly.”

Before arriving in the UK, Mr Morrison spoke to Singaporean counterpart Lee Hsien Loong on Thursday about releasing more vaccines throughout south-east Asia and the Pacific.

“We must avoid any form of vaccine protectionism as much as possible,” Mr Morrison said.

“We’ve invested some $623 million, not only to provide doses, but technical advice, training, cold chain storage to support countries across south-east Asia and the Pacific.”

Mr Lee said the talks canvassed whether Singapore could be a hub to distribute vaccines made in Australia, such as by doing the “fill and finish” into vials.

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