Australia to send vaccines to Papua New Guinea

Australia said on Wednesday it will ask the European Union to release 1 million doses of a COVID-19 vaccine to help Papua New Guinea.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the AstraZeneca vaccines were contracted to Australia, but were badly needed to contain a surge in coronavirus cases in the Pacific island nation.

"We've contracted them. We've paid for them and we want to see those vaccines come here so we can support our nearest neighbour, PNG, to deal with their urgent needs in our region, and we'll be seeking the support of the European Union and AstraZeneca to achieve that as soon as possible."

As an immediate measure, eight thousand of Australia's domestic stock will be rushed to its northern neighbour to inoculate health workers.

PNG has officially recorded just 2,000 cases since the pandemic begun, but that number is seen as a massive underestimate.

The country has little infrastructure to conduct mass testing, and the few that were being done were showing alarming results.

Australia said it must stand with its friend and neighbour, but the request for vaccines from the EU could risk inflaming tensions with Brussels.

This month, Italy blocked a shipment of 250,000 doses of AstraZeneca vaccines to Australia after the drug manufacturer failed to meet its European Union contract commitments.

It was the first refusal of an export request since the EU established a mechanism to monitor vaccine flows in late January.