The UK should commit to giving 20% of its vaccines to other countries that are in urgent need of them as early as June, according to Unicef, which says the UK will still have enough to vaccinate every adult by the end of July.
The children’s charity estimates the UK will have enough spare doses this year to fully vaccinate a further 50 million people around the world, and urges the government to set an example to the G7 by starting to share them next month. Vaccinating the populations of other countries is the only way to ensure new coronavirus variants do not spread, it says.
Unicef made its call before the G7 summit in the UK next month and as France announced it would donate up to 5% of its vaccine stocks to Covax, the UN-backed initiative to get vaccines to lower-income countries.
The French president called on Europe and the US to do the same. “We’re not talking about billions of doses immediately, or billions and billions of euros,” Emmanuel Macron told the Financial Times. “It’s about much more rapidly allocating 4-5% of the doses we have.
“It won’t change our vaccination campaigns, but each country should set aside a small number of the doses it has to transfer tens of millions of them, but very fast, so that people on the ground see it happening.”
Joe Biden has committed to sharing surplus vaccine stocks with the developing world and has undertaken to send the 60m doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine it holds, which has not yet been approved in the US.
Unicef says the UK should lead by example and called on other G7 countries also to donate 20% of their vaccine stocks to Covax.
“The UK has done a fantastic job in rolling out Covid-19 vaccines to more than half of its adult population and we should all be proud of what has been achieved. However, we can’t ignore that the UK and other G7 countries have purchased over a third of the world’s vaccine supply, despite making up only 13% of the global population – and we risk leaving low-income countries behind,” said Joanna Rea, the director of advocacy at Unicef UK.
“Unless the UK urgently starts sharing its available doses to ensure others around the world are protected from the virus, the UK will not be safe from Covid-19. Our vaccine rollout success could be reversed and the NHS could be fighting another wave of the virus due to deadly mutations.”
Vaccine production is limited. Bruce Aylward, a senior adviser to the World Health Organization who is part of the implementation team for Covax, echoed the call for wealthier countries to share a percentage of the doses they have available.
“Where we are now is that 1.3bn doses have been administered into the arms of people around the world,” he told the Guardian. “But for the 20-30 poorest countries the total is less than 5m. There is no scenario where that is equitable.
“There’s lots of vaccine in the world. We have healthcare workers and vulnerable people in the poorest parts of the world and we don’t need that many doses to make a huge impact. In sub-Saharan Africa the number of people who are vulnerable is 3-4% of the population. And an even smaller percentage of health care workers.
“Watching India and Brazil, all the arguments have been made. Right now we have a real-time window to avoid seeing that tragedy repeated elsewhere.”