Prime Minister Scott Morrison has urged world leaders to ramp up production of mRNA vaccines such as Pfizer’s at a historic APEC meeting to discuss recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern on Friday night hosted the online Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation leaders’ retreat, which also involved US President Joe Biden, Russia’s Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping.
It is the first time in the regional forum’s history that a special meeting has been held at leaders’ level and comes at a time when 12 million Australians are in lockdown due to spiralling outbreaks of the Delta virus variant.
APEC’s 21 members have suffered their biggest contraction since WWII, with 81 million jobs lost and a contraction of 1.9 per cent of GDP.
But Mr Morrison boasted of Australia’s fiscal recovery during the virtual summit, saying the economy has bounced back to levels higher than before the pandemic.
“As this pandemic started and we had these meetings, we spoke about saving lives and saving livelihoods. In many ways that’s been achieved,” he said.
“There are more people employed now in Australia than before the pandemic hit.
“That has been assisted greatly by the fiscal support packages we’ve put in place and the successful suppression strategies we’ve put in place.”
Mr Morrison pointed to a successful global vaccination effort as a path out of the pandemic.
Key to that is the production of more mRNA vaccines like those made by Pfizer and Moderna.
“Scaling up the production of vaccines really is the challenge for all of us,” he said.
“We produce the AstraZeneca vaccine in Australia, but particularly the mRNA vaccine production capability is something we really have to lift globally, so we can get that to more and more of the population.”
Mr Morrison noted Australia itself faced “quite a challenge” in crossing critical vaccination “thresholds”.
Only 13.3 per cent of Australia’s population has been fully vaccinated.
In the meantime, the country would remain in a suppression phase he said, in a nod to the lockdowns in NSW and Victoria.
In a statement issued after the meeting, the APEC leaders vowed to redouble efforts to expand vaccine manufacture and supply and said they would continue to support economies for as long as necessary.
They also said voluntary transfer of vaccine production technology on mutually agreed terms would be encouraged.
The leaders’ statement said they must pave the way for safe resumption of cross-border travel, but “without undermining efforts to prevent the spread of COVID-19”.
The full APEC leaders’ summit is due to be held online in November.