The most at-risk Australians should be vaccinated against COVID-19 now, but the rest of the country can wait, according to an infectious diseases specialist and an ethics expert at The Australian National University (ANU).

They argue Australia, as a rich country that’s handled the pandemic well, should stop hoarding vaccines and start sending surplus supplies to countries in desperate need. 

Ethics researcher Dr Ben Bramble from the ANU School of Philosophy said Australia’s proposed COVID-19 vaccine rollout, with the goal of vaccinating as many Australians by October this year, is not the strategy the world needs now.  

“Vaccinate our most vulnerable citizens, health workers and hotel quarantine staff immediately – no question about that,” Dr Bramble said.  

“As for the rest of us? We can wait.” 

Even if Australia could vaccinate its entire population in the next few months, this would not allow us to open our borders any time soon anyway, Dr Bramble said.

“The ability to reopen our borders in the medium to long-term depends on the success of the global vaccination project,” he said.

“We will vaccinate everyone in Australia – let those at-risk people in poorer countries get it before our healthy 30-year-olds here, while we’re able to keep the virus under control.

“We need to applaud our success so far in limiting the spread of COVID-19 in this country and accept ongoing reasonable restrictions for the sake of the greater good and the world.”   

Dr Bramble said Australia has enough contracted supplies of coronavirus vaccines to inoculate the entire population three times.

“That’s the kind of hoarding problem among rich countries that the World Health Organization has been warning us about. Norway and several other countries have already committed to donating substantial amounts of the vaccines they have procured,” he said.

Professor Peter Collignon AM from the ANU Medical School said there are clear ethical and practical reasons for this approach.

“Countries grappling with COVID-19 should have priority access to available vaccines for their most at-risk citizens.”  

Professor Collignon said there are not that many vaccine production factories globally.

“After the most at-risk Australians are jabbed with the Pfizer and AstraZeneca vaccines, we should export much of the AstraZeneca vaccine we are making now in Melbourne to countries that need it more than us – as either sales or foreign aid,” he said.

“With the capacity to produce a million doses of the highly transportable AstraZeneca vaccine every week, Australia has a special responsibility here.

“If rich countries like Australia don’t export any of the vaccines they produce, then poor countries aren’t going to get much at all for quite a while.”

Australia has committed to financial aid and other assistance to countries in the Pacific and south-east Asia, including the supply of vaccines surplus to our needs.

“This is a good start, but Australia is in an enviable position with its handling of the pandemic and can do more. Much more,” Professor Collignon said.

Read their opinion piece in The Guardian.

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