Britain will donate most of its surplus coronavirus vaccines to poorer nations once all its own citizens have had the jab, Boris Johnson has confirmed.
The prime minister made the pledge ahead of a virtual G7 meeting of leaders of the richest countries on Friday, including US president Joe Biden in his first major diplomatic event, as part of a move to strengthen global cooperation on tackling the pandemic.
Johnson will also urge fellow world leaders to back an ambitious target of supporting the development of vaccines for emerging diseases in 100 days in future, a third of the time it took to successfully develop the Pfizer/BioNTech jab.
No.10 said that the UK will share “the majority” of its surplus Covid-19 vaccines with the international Covax initiative that supports developing countries that lack the capacity or funds to buy the inoculations themselves.
The UK has ordered 407 million doses of seven of the most promising vaccines, more than three times the amount it needs to give the whole population two doses.
On current plans, the government expects to vaccinate its entire adult population by August and possibly even earlier.
Decisions on timing and the scale of any surplus will be decided later in the year, although it is understood that well over 50% of excess doses would go to Covax. That could mean more than 130 million doses for the poorest countries in the world.
The scale of the surplus will depend on the reliability of the vaccine supply chain and whether new vaccines are needed for emerging variants or booster shots in the autumn.
Johnson will ask the G7, made up of the US, Japan, Canada, Germany, France and Italy along with the UK, to increase funding for Covax.
French president Emmanuel Macron on Thursday urged fellow European nations and the US to immediately give up to 5% of their current vaccine supplies to developing countries in Africa, warning poorer nations are paying “astronomical prices” for jabs being made in the West.
“We’re not talking about billions of doses immediately, or billions and billions of euros. It’s about much more rapidly allocating 4-5 per cent of the doses we have,” he told the FT.
“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.”
United Nations secretary general Antonio Guterres this week denounced the “wildly uneven and unfair” global distribution of vaccines, pointing out that just 10 countries have administered 75 percent of all vaccinations.
The One Campaign, a global movement working to end extreme poverty and preventable disease by 2030, said Mr Johnson’s commitment does not go far enough.
Romilly Greenhill, UK director of The One Campaign, said: “The government needs to be going much harder and faster.
“Sharing surplus doses through Covax is the right thing to do, but there is a real risk of double standards if we talk a good game on global vaccines access but continue to stockpile more doses than we need.
“The virus won’t wait on us to be ready before it mutates, so we need to get these vaccines around the world as quickly as possible.”
Along with the existing jabs, Johnson will call on the leaders to support efforts to slash the time taken to develop and approve new vaccines and treatments, in line with a 100-day ambition set out by the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (Cepi).
Chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance will work with the World Health Organisation and Cepi, along with industry and scientific experts, to draw up plans to speed up the process.
Johnson said: “The development of viable coronavirus vaccines offers the tantalising prospect of a return to normality, but we must not rest on our laurels. As leaders of the G7 we must say today: never again.
“By harnessing our collective ingenuity, we can ensure we have the vaccines, treatments and tests to be battle-ready for future health threats, as we beat Covid-19 and build back better together.”
Friday’s video conference is the first meeting of G7 leaders since April 2020 and comes ahead of a summit in Cornwall in June.
Officials believe that will be able to go ahead in person, although it will be scaled-back compared to previous G7 meetings as a result of coronavirus.
A rigorous testing regime and a system of “bubbles” are likely to be used to prevent the spread of coronavirus.