Covid: Boris Johnson urged to share vaccines with poorer nations

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Image source, Reuters

A group of charities is urging Boris Johnson to "swiftly clarify" how many Covid vaccine doses the UK is prepared to donate to poorer countries.

Save the Children and the Wellcome Trust are among those calling on the PM to start donating jabs through Covax.

This scheme aims to provide jabs for low and middle-income countries.

Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden said the UK does not currently have a surplus of vaccines, but when it does that surplus will be shared.

The UK, which has ordered 400 million vaccine doses and will have many left over, has said it will donate most of its surplus vaccine supply to poorer countries.

The lower income countries most likely to receive the first vaccines through Covax include Afghanistan, Haiti, DR Congo, Ethiopia and Somalia.

Meanwhile, Northern Ireland's First Minister Arlene Foster has said she hopes the UK will give vaccine doses to the Republic of Ireland, in a bid to help stop the spread of infection in Northern Ireland.

Ms Foster said sharing excess supply with Ireland was "a runner" and she will "be making that point again" when she speaks to Mr Johnson.

So far, more than 29 million UK adults have received a first dose of a Covid vaccine.

In a letter, the charities say the UK is "one of the world's highest per-capita buyers" of vaccines and is on track to have more than 100 million surplus doses.

"There is therefore the high risk that the UK will be hoarding limited supply whilst health workers and the most vulnerable in low and middle-income countries do not have access," the letter says.

"The UK will be sitting on enough surplus vaccine doses to vaccinate the world's frontline health workers twice over."

The group urges the UK to immediately begin donating doses through the Covax initiative.

Scientist Sir Jeremy Farrar, director of the Wellcome Trust and a member of the government's Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), said the UK will still have contractual access to at least 100 million surplus doses once the entire population is vaccinated, which he said "won't be of use in the UK".

"Now is the time to think beyond our borders," he said. "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. This goes beyond ethics - it's a scientific and economic imperative."

Media caption,
Covax vaccine plan: What is it and how will it work?

Charities that signed the letter include anti-poverty campaigns One and Global Citizen, the Results UK charity and the Pandemic Action Network.

On Sunday, Mr Dowden told Sky News' Sophy Ridge programme: "Clearly our first priority is ensuring that we deliver vaccines in the United Kingdom

"We clearly don't currently have a surplus of vaccines. Should we get to the point where we have a surplus of vaccines, we'd make a decision on the allocation of that surplus."

The government said the UK has "played a leading role in championing global access to coronavirus vaccines", including a £548m contribution to the Covax Advance Market Commitment.

This makes the UK "one of the largest donors" and the contribution "has already helped 20 lower-middle countries to receive doses".

"The prime minister has confirmed the UK will share the majority of any future surplus coronavirus vaccines from our supply with the Covax pool, when these are available," a spokesman said.

"No-one is safe until we are all safe."