More Australian-made coronavirus vaccines could be sent to Papua New Guinea, which is in the grips of a dire outbreak.
PNG, which is just kilometres from Australia’s northernmost islands, faces a worsening crisis with hundreds of new cases recorded each day despite low testing rates.
While the federal government has delivered an initial 8480 doses of the AstraZeneca jab, more locally produced stocks could be sent to Australia’s northern neighbour.
Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade secretary Frances Adamson said the government was aware of the urgency of the situation.
“The possibility of some of Australia’s domestically produced stocks being able to be used for this purpose is certainly something that is live but yet formally to be decided by government,” she said on Thursday.
Pharmaceutical giant CSL is contracted to manufacture 50 million AstraZeneca doses in Melbourne during the year.
Greens senator Janet Rice told a Senate estimates hearing there was an urgent and dire need for vaccines in Papua New Guinea.
“We’ve got this absolute tragedy unfolding in PNG,” she said.
Foreign Minister Marise Payne indicated cabinet would consider the issue of sending more Australian-made vaccines.
“That is something which must be on the table,” she said.
Australia has also pledged to redirect one million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine ordered from Europe to PNG.
But there are doubts those vials will ever leave Europe where countries are desperately trying to hang on to domestic stocks.
Ms Adamson said all of Australia’s European missions were advocating for the plight of PNG in an effort to ensure the vaccines are released.
“It’s not one of a long list of things we’re doing, it’s the top priority in Europe,” she said.
DFAT’s Robin Davies said the PNG government was not expecting to be ready to rollout a mass vaccination campaign until mid-May.
“There are genuine limitations,” he said.
Almost 300,000 doses are expected to be delivered to PNG in April through the global COVAX arrangement for poorer nations.