MPs have urged the UK to donate Covid vaccine doses to poorer countries to save lives and prevent dangerous new variants from cropping up.
More than 100 cross-party politicians have signed a letter asking the Government to donate one vaccine to the United Nations-backed Covax scheme for every one bought in this country.
The push has been timed ahead of the G7 summit in Cornwall, which begins on June 11. Disparity in vaccine allocation across the world is expected to be a key talking point at the summit.
It comes after the World Health Organisation, the International Monetary Fund, World Bank Group and the World Trade Organisation released a proposal for countries to make up-front payments and vaccine donations to poorer countries.
The organisations’ appeal calls for immediate donations to prevent the ‘untold millions’ of vulnerable people around the world succumbing to the virus.
Pressure is mounting on global leaders to address what the World Health Organization has branded a ‘vaccine apartheid’.
Countries like the UK and US have been able to roll the vaccines out to younger people and largely squash their crises thanks to having hundreds of millions of vaccine doses on pre-order.
Yet developing nations in Africa, South America, the Middle East and Asia are recording record death tolls due to lagging rollouts.
The UN children’s agency Unicef — which buys and distributes vaccines for Covax — says its research suggests G7 nations and EU states could donate 153million doses and still meet their domestic commitments.
Layla Moran is among a group of 100 MPs calling for the UK to donate some of its vaccine doses to poorer countries
Map shows: How the proportion of all adults who have received a first dose of a Covid vaccine differs across the world
Graph shows: How the proportion of people who have had their first vaccine dose could change across the world over the next year if countries follow the International Monetary Fund’s plan to provide Covax with an additional $4billion (£2.8billion), donate all surplus vaccines immediately and restrictions on moving vaccines across borders are lifted
High infection rates run the risk of new variants spawning and undermining lockdown and vaccination efforts around the globe, including the West.
Most recently a variant which emerged in India — now dubbed Delta as part of the WHO’s new strain naming system — has put the UK’s lockdown-ending hopes in jeopardy.
Queues of experts and Government advisors today warned against the unlocking on June 21, with Professor Adam Finn of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation telling the Prime Minister ‘the job is not done’.
And over the weekend a variant was detected in Vietnam which is said to be a super-infectious hybrid of the strains that emerged in India and in Kent.
Race to double-jab the over-50s: Huge NHS drive to give maximum Covid protection to older people before June 21 to secure our freedom date
The NHS is racing to give millions of over-50s their second Covid vaccine shot by June 21 to allow England to open up on ‘Freedom Day’ as hoped.
Vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi yesterday set a deadline for the first time amid increasing concern at the highly transmissible new Indian variant of the disease.
Around 5million people aged over 50 are waiting for their second dose, with the NHS needing to vaccinate 225,000 of them every day to meet the target.
But second jabs were handed out at a rate of more than 400,000 a day most days last week, meaning it would take something catastrophic to knock the drive off course. Ministers hope that by hitting the target, it will help them avoid delaying the ‘unlockdown date’, which Boris Johnson has set for three weeks’ time.
Asked on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show whether the vaccine rollout was enough to ensure that all restrictions are lifted on that date, Mr Zahawi said: ‘We are in a race between vaccinating at scale and making sure people get their two doses.
‘We saw very good data from Public Health England around the protection from two doses, either of Pfizer or of AstraZeneca. We hope to be able to protect with two doses – all ‘one to nine’ [first phase priority groups], all the over-50s – before June 21. We will make sure we vaccinate at scale.
‘But – and here’s the important thing – we will share the evidence with the country on June 14 to basically explain exactly where we are on infection rates, hospitalisations and of course, sadly, of death.’
Lib Dem MP Layla Moran, one of the signatories of the letter and chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Coronavirus, said: ‘We have been saying as a country for a long time that at some stage we would start donating actual doses to Covax.
‘As yet, not a single dose has actually been donated.
‘So we are calling on the Government to start donating those vaccines as a matter of urgency. And to also commit to technology transfer and coming to some kind of an agreement on intellectual property so that other countries elsewhere in the world are geared up to be able to manufacture their own vaccines.
‘No dose is ever wasted. And certainly for all the young people desperate they will certainly not feel it was wasted. When we took evidence on this as an all party group, there was very clearly a moral dilemma, but also a public health message that was coming off clear and strong from those who are involved in the global cause for this.’
Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, she said: ‘The moral dilemma is that while we as a country have vaccinated 75 per cent of our population with our first dose, in 91 countries they’ve received less than 1 per cent of the total doses.
‘That’s 2.5billion people. Literally millions of people could die between now and September.
‘And there is a global tragedy that is teetering on the edge.
‘Those world leaders that you mentioned are calling it a ‘dangerous gap’ and there is this narrow window now for us to act.
‘So yes, bluntly, we do think that this country should be donating doses.
‘Carry on our programme here, but a proportion should go to Covax now. The short term solution is this vaccine donation.
‘I would also put to people who are saying “but what about me”.
‘Well I would point out that the third wave that’s potentially on our door. We’re talking about delaying the June 21st opening is a result of a variant of concern that started elsewhere in the world.
‘And because we are a global hub we found it wash up on our shores and now has taken hold.
‘We cannot expect that this will be the last time that will happen.
‘And every time you have seen a variant of concern emerge, it does seem to be less effective every time, those vaccines are less effective against it.’
It comes as the WHO, International Monetary Fund, World Bank Group and World Trade Organisation urged richer countries to give more jabs to poorer nations or risk new variants emerging and forcing future lockdowns.
The heads of the organisations warned a ‘dangerous gap’ is emerging between richer and poorer nations in the availability of coronavirus vaccines and risks creating a ‘two-track’ pandemic.
They said yesterday: ‘Increasingly, a two-track pandemic is developing. Inequitable vaccine distribution is not only leaving untold millions of people vulnerable to the virus, it is also allowing deadly variants to emerge and ricochet back across the world.
‘Even countries with advanced vaccination programmes have been forced to reimpose stricter public health measures. It need not be this way.’
The proposal seeks vaccinate at least 40 percent of the population in all countries by the end of 2021 and at least 60 percent by the first half of 2022.
As many as 25.5million people got two doses after 204,282 second jabs were administered
Desperate Britons queue for coronavirus vaccine jabs in Twickenham yesterday evening
Britain’s daily coronavirus infections rose 40 per cent in a week after 3,383 cases were recorded amid a growing outbreak of the Indian variant, but only one death was registered
This morning a scientific adviser to the Government repeated calls to delay the June 21 lifting of pandemic restrictions by ‘a few weeks’, warning that the ability of coronavirus to adapt in the face of vaccines has still left the UK in a vulnerable position.
Professor Ravi Gupta, a member of the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (Nervtag), said the UK’s pandemic picture had changed since its road map to recovery was drawn up, chiefly through the emergence of the Indian of B1617.2 strain of the virus.
Expert who helped develop Oxford jab says it is ‘morally wrong’ to offer Covid vaccine to children in wealthy nations
Offering the Covid vaccine to children in wealthy countries when high-risk groups in poorer nations remain unvaccinated is ‘morally wrong’, the director of the Oxford Vaccine Group has said.
Professor Andrew Pollard said it felt ‘completely wrong’ that vaccines were being rolled out to children who had a ‘near-to-zero’ risk of severe disease or death from Covid-19 ahead of priority groups from poorer countries.
The scientist, who helped develop the Oxford/AstraZeneca Covid-19 jab, went on to say the ‘inequity’ in the global vaccine rollout was ‘absolutely plain to see at this moment in a very troubling way’.
His comments came as it emerged that the UK had secured enough Pfizer vaccines to inoculate children aged 12 and older if it is clinically approved.
Professor Pollard told the All Party Parliamentary Group on Coronavirus: ‘When you look at the overall aim of a global vaccination programme in a pandemic, it’s to stop people dying.
‘And we know who those people are – that’s the over-50s, it’s those who’ve got health conditions and to some extent also healthcare workers and so those are the priority groups.
‘We are in a situation at the moment where there are many unvaccinated people in the world but not enough doses for everyone yet.
‘But there are many unvaccinated people in the world, whilst people whose risk is extremely low are being vaccinated, including children, who have near-to-zero the risk of severe disease or death.
‘That inequity is absolutely plain to see at this moment in a very troubling way as we see the images from South Asia on our televisions of the awful circumstances now – colleagues that are just facing the most appalling circumstances, they’re not working in a situation where there’s an NHS to support them.
‘And it feels completely wrong to be in a situation morally where we were allowing that to happen, whilst in many countries vaccines are being rolled out to younger and younger populations at very, very low risk.’
He also warned the increased socialisation following last month’s easing of restrictions could lead to ‘quite a lot’ of hospital admissions, and said while Britain had performed ‘amazingly well’ in its vaccination programme, it was still too early ‘to put the vaccine straight up against the virus’.
Professor Gupta told ITV’s Good Morning Britain moving back the June 21 target date could have a significant impact on the fight against the pandemic, adding it should be made clear to the public this would be a temporary measure based on recent developments.
More than 39 million people have been given a first jab and a further 25.3million have had both doses.
Asked whether a three-week delay to the June 21 target would be sufficient while Britons were being vaccinated at a rate of four million per week, Prof Gupta said: ‘Even a month delay could have a big impact on the eventual outcome of this.
‘As long as it’s clear to people this is not an unlimited extension of the lockdown but actually just a reassessment, that would be realistic.
‘Because we didn’t plan for the 617.2 variant when the initial road map was made, and actually things have gone really well except for the fact that we have this new variant to complicate things.
‘We must remember this is a virus that does adapt, and faced with vaccines it will eventually start to make mutations to avoid them even further, and then we could be in an even more precarious situation after that.’
Professor Gupta said the UK was in ‘a really good position’ in regard to its vaccination programme but caution remained crucial.
‘The key thing here is that we’re almost there,’ he said.
‘The problem is we don’t want to put the vaccine straight up against the virus at a time when the vaccine coverage isn’t quite high enough; it’s not in young people, it’s not in schoolchildren, and that’s where the virus may potentially start circulating.
‘We still have a lot of vulnerable people in the community who haven’t responded to the vaccine.’
Prof Gupta said it was concerning that hospital admissions could be about to rise following last month’s easing of restrictions, at a time when hospitals were dealing with large backlogs of procedures and treatments delayed because of the pandemic.
‘If we’re fully unlocked on the 21st of June, we have a situation where over the next few weeks there will be a lot of mixing, there will be gatherings, because people have been waiting to do these things for a long time,’ he said.
‘So we will get an excess of mixing, especially in younger groups, and that will lead to some hospitalisations… quite a lot, at a time when the NHS is trying to distance within hospitals, so it does take time to get things done there, and the added pressure of having Covid cases, some of which will be severe of course, is going to have an effect on morale and clinical care for everybody.’
In February, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson promised to donate most of the UK’s vaccine supply surplus to poorer countries but no specific timescale has been given.
Britain has ordered more than 500million doses of the most promising vaccines, enough to vaccinate the population many times over.
France — the only G7 nation to send vaccine doses abroad — has already committed to donating 500,000 doses to India and Sweden 3million, with Switzerland considering a similar donation.
Britain was due to receive 5million doses of AstraZeneca’s jab being manufactured in India but they were blocked after India’s second wave took off.
The UK is not believed to be pursuing the doses, with experts previously telling MailOnline it would be ‘ethically dubious’ to do so.