Covid in Scotland: Rich countries 'must share vaccines with poorest'

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Rich countries such as the UK should share their Covid vaccines with the world's poorest nations, a Scottish health expert has claimed.

Prof James Chalmers said "vaccine nationalism" could lead to huge global social and economic problems.

It follows the head of the World Health Organisation (WHO) warning of a "catastrophic moral failure" because of unequal Covid vaccine policies.

The EU has threatened to restrict exports if its allocation is not met.

Prof James Chalmers, an expert in respiratory medicine at Dundee University, said the 75% of the world's population who lived in low and middle-income countries were being "left behind".

Global commitment

He told BBC Scotland's Drivetime programme: "By the end if this year, we will be vaccinating younger people in the UK and in western countries who are at very low risk of complications from Covid.

"Meanwhile, people at very high risk in low and middle-income countries have no chance of getting a vaccine this year.

"That can't be fair, that can't be right if you have a global commitment to public health."

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director general of WHO, previously said it was not fair for younger, healthy people in richer nations to get injections before vulnerable people in poorer states.

He said more than 39 million vaccine doses had been given in 49 richer states - but one poor nation had only 25 doses.

Oxfam has also estimated that low and middle-income countries may have less than 10% of their populations vaccinated by the end of 2021.

Media caption,

A 'bittersweet' moment for India's health workers

Prof Chalmers said vaccine stockpiling and inequality was "storing up huge problems over the coming year because we are going to have a two-tier world".

He added: "The highest income part of the world is going to be vaccinated, with a protected population.

"But the large majority of the world's population will be looking on, still at risk, and asking: 'When are our vaccines coming?'"

It is estimated that the UK has ordered enough doses to vaccinate its entire population three times over.

Other wealthy western countries are at similar levels - while Canada has ordered enough for five times its population.

Prof Chalmers said rich nations trying to get to the top of "vaccine league tables" were being "short-sighted".

"Until the whole world is protected, no-one is protected because variants of the virus in these countries can travel to this country, spread and bypass the vaccine," he said.

"It's the right thing to do to protect people in these countries, but it's also in our long-term economic, security and health interests to promote equitable access to vaccines."

'Critical role'

Prof Chalmers said the UK had a "critical role to play" because it manufactured a large amount of the AstraZeneca vaccine, which is currently the easiest to roll out.

He said: "It's not something that one government could do. We have to engage multi-laterally, but it will require sacrifices.

"It will require countries in Europe, the US and the UK - the rich countries - agreeing to give up some of their vaccine to other countries.

"We also need to persuade our populations that it is the right thing to do."

Prof Chalmers added: "We should look at those league tables, not with pride that we're ahead of some other countries, but with a degree of shame that we haven't managed to provide enough vaccine for the whole world."