‘More dangerous, deadly’ mutations of COVID-19 to emerge in developing nations

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More than 20 low-income countries won’t reach 70 per cent vaccination until after 2030, according to research that raises the alarm that vaccines will be ineffective against new mutations of COVID-19.

The findings have reignited calls for Australia to commit $250 million more to secure COVID-19 vaccines for developing nations amid growing concern that more “dangerous, deadly” mutations of the virus could appear in the developing world within the next year.

Tim Costello warns the virus could come back in mutated forms unless Australia and other countries provide more support.Credit:Alex Ellinghausen

Only 2 per cent of people in low-income countries have received a first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, and a global initiative known as COVAX is on track to fall 1 billion short of its updated vaccine target of 1.4 billion doses this year.

A report backed by a coalition of aid, health, business and civil society groups to be released on Monday urges Australia to lift its commitment to the global vaccination effort by $250 million and 20 million extra vaccine doses.

The report, A SHOT OF HOPE – Australia’s role in vaccinating the World, notes that two-thirds of 77 epidemiologists surveyed in 28 developing countries believe if action is not taken now, it will take less than a year before the virus mutates.

End COVID For All spokesman Tim Costello said the longer the world allows developing nations to lag in terms of vaccination rates, “the more time we give the virus to mutate and spread”.

“COVAX is the only global initiative that is working with governments and manufacturers to ensure doses are available to both higher-income and lower-income countries who may not otherwise be able to procure vaccines on their own,” he said.

“The Delta strain, and the havoc it has wreaked across Australia, shows we cannot allow COVID to run rampant and mutate overseas.”

Australia has already given $130 million to COVAX to go to poorer countries. But it also paid $123 million for the option to purchase 25 million doses from the facility for itself and has already received 500,000 Pfizer doses under this stream.

The Australian government has also committed to boost vaccines in south-east Asia as part of the Quad partnership with the United States, India and Japan.

Health professionals have been growing increasingly concerned about the rise of “vaccine nationalism” during the pandemic, with World Health Organisation director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus repeatedly warning: “None of us will be safe until everyone is safe”.

They fear mutations of the virus which cannot be treated with existing vaccines will keep coming back to developed nations unless all of the world is given the chance to be vaccinated at the same time.

“The last thing we want, on Freedom Day in NSW, is the prospect of further deaths and lockdowns because we didn’t do all that we could to vaccinate the world,” Mr Costello said.

“And we cannot ignore the moral imperative we have to help our poorest neighbours. Just 2 per cent of people in low-income countries have received a first dose of a COVID vaccine.”

The report also calls on Australia to commit to vaccine equity for all frontline workers and vulnerable groups around the world and spend $50 million on countering vaccine hesitancy.

It is backed by at least 50 organisations including Australian aid groups, religious organisations, businesses, universities and medical research institutions.

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