UNICEF Australia Breakfast Briefing on the COVID-19 Vaccine Rollout

  • Speech, check against delivery
23 March 2021
Parliament House, Canberra

It’s great to join you today, to discuss practical ways to get vaccines out to where they’re needed, both here in Australia and abroad.

Australia has committed $623.2 million over three years to provide access to safe and effective vaccines for the Pacific and Southeast Asia. This includes $100 million as part of a recent landmark vaccine partnership with Quad partners [the US, India and Japan], to provide over one billion vaccines to the Indo-Pacific by 2022. It also includes $200 million to ensure that the Pacific and Timor-Leste can achieve full vaccination coverage based on their needs.

I know you’re all keenly aware of the situation in Papua New Guinea. We have been working in close partnership with the PNG Government over the past year to support its response to COVID-19.

This included reprioritising over $60 million in aid spending to provide personal protection equipment (PPE), fund provincial health services, and protect font-line workers.

In response to the current outbreak, the Government has announced that we’re immediately supplying an initial 8,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine from our own stock to PNG’s frontline nurses and doctors.

And we’re requesting that AstraZeneca and European Authorities provide a further one million doses directly to PNG, paid for by Australia.

We’re also deploying an AUSMAT advisory team, supplying PPE including one million surgical masks, and working with local authorities to upscale testing and expand capacity to treat cases.

Our initial vaccine shipment and the AUSMAT members are expected to arrive today.

All this immediate support is on top of the $144.7 million in assistance Australia is providing to PNG over 3 years through our regional vaccine access initiative.

This commitment will enable in-country partners, UNICEF and World Health Organisation, to provide technical assistance to the Government of PNG, public communications and undertake preparatory work for the arrival of 588,000 AstraZeneca doses that PNG has initially been allocated under COVAX Facility. The first batch is due for delivery in mid-April.

Looking out across our region more broadly COVID-19 continues to have a crippling impact: with economies and health systems under stress, but also in the hardships endured by many communities.

Australia and much of our Pacific family have weathered COVID-19 over the past year better than most — something for which Pacific leaders deserve great credit.

The relative strength of the Australian economy puts us in a good position, not just to protect ourselves from COVID, also to get on the front foot throughout our region knowing that a secure and healthy region makes for a safer Australia.

Through the Partnerships for Recovery strategy, the Australian Government pivoted $840 million of development funds last financial year to respond to the urgent priorities of our partners across the Indo-Pacific, supporting economic recovery, health security, and stability.

And on top of our $4 billion Development Assistance Program for 2021, we’re delivering $1.3 billion in additional temporary, targeted initiatives to support economic recovery and deliver safe and effective vaccines in our region.

Now, as we roll out vaccines, partnerships with agencies like UNICEF will be pivotal.

We know that UNICEF will be at the front line of our efforts to vaccinate the Indo-Pacific whether doses are delivered through the COVAX Facility, to which we’ve given $80 million or more directly via Australia’s $623 million commitment to vaccine access for the Pacific and Southeast Asia.

UNICEF is a natural partner for the Government in the vaccine rollout, given the agency’s leadership on procurement and logistics for COVAX and GAVI.

And as many here know, UNICEF has a remarkable track record: more than 75 years’ global experience, including 50 years on the ground in the Pacific delivering vaccines.

Your global, regional, and country-level experience is extremely valuable, helping us procure vaccines and support local governments in delivering doses safely, effectively, and equitably — especially so that women and girls, those with disabilities, and those most vulnerable are vaccinated.

While we certainly have a challenging path ahead particularly in terms of logistics, we draw confidence from the fact we’re working with a partner like UNICEF to deliver safe and effective vaccines to the region.

Can I again thank everyone for your time today — this is something I know we all care about deeply, and it is great to have your support.

Thank you.

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