The UK must end its silence on sharing vaccines with the world’s poorest countries and start doing so “immediately”, leading aid groups say today.
Suggestions that developing countries will be charged for the doses must be dropped and no attempt made to count any donations as part of the shrinking overseas aid budget, a letter says.
The call, by groups including the Wellcome Trust and Save the Children UK, follows accusations that the UK and other wealthy countries are exerting “a stranglehold” over supplies.
Africa has received just 16 million doses – while having a population of 1.2 billion people – the same number as the US is vaccinating every week, it was pointed out.
Meanwhile, the UN-backed Covax programme, set up to distribute vaccines, has been hit by the double blow of technical problems at a South Korean plant and India’s clampdown on exports.
Yemen, South Sudan, Mauritius, Iraq and Bosnia and Herzegovina are all due to receive supplies in the coming days which are now in jeopardy, Unicef said.
“Now is the time to think beyond our borders,” said Sir Jeremy Farrar, the director of Wellcome.
“The world won’t be safe while any single country is still fighting the virus. If left to spread, it risks mutating to an extent where our vaccines and treatments no longer work.”
Romilly Greenhill, UK director of the anti-poverty charity ONE, said: “Getting these life-saving vaccines everywhere is as important to people in Doncaster as it is for families in Dhaka.”
And Kevin Watkins, chief executive of Save the Children, said: “The current diplomatic landscape, dominated by vaccine nationalism, protectionism and tension, is good for no one. It will only prolong the pandemic and risk the emergence of dangerous variants.”
The letter to the prime minister urges him to:
* Begin sharing doses with Covax immediately – with a roadmap for how donations will be increased in the coming months.
* Ensure doses are donated, not sold – with the value counted on top of the aid budget controversially being slashed to 0.5 per cent of national income.
* Lead by example by striving for a “collective G7 commitment” to rapidly share surplus vaccine doses at the summit the UK will host in June.
The groups say the calming of tensions with the EU – with a deal thought to be close to avert any export bans – creates the space for the UK to begin its own exports.
The domestic programme is on course to give one dose to all nine priority groups by mid-April – and Britain has a potential excess of over 100 million doses in advance orders, they say.