MPs have urged the UK to donate Covid vaccine doses to poorer countries – amid fears they could be where new variants emerge.
Over 100 members have signed a letter asking the government to donate a shot 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.
MP Layla Moran 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.’
MP Layla Moran was among those calling for some of the UK’s doses to be donated to others
Desperate Britons queue for coronavirus vaccine jabs in Twickenham yesterday evening
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 [File photo]
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.’
She added to Radio 2 ‘s Today programme: ‘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.’
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.
As many as 25.5million people got two doses after 204,282 second jabs were administered
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
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’.
Prof 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 25.3 million 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.’
Prof 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 500 million doses of the most promising vaccines, enough to vaccinate the population many times over.
Global vaccine distribution is expected to be a key talking point at two major meetings over the next month — the Global Health Summit on Friday and the G7 in Cornwall.
France — the only G7 nation to send vaccine doses abroad — has already donated 500,000 doses to India and Sweden 1 million, 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.
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.
It comes after Oxford’s Professor Pollard criticised the UK and US for their plans to vaccinate children instead of donating doses to developing countries.
The scientist, who helped develop the Oxford/AstraZeneca jab, went on to say the ‘inequity’ in the global vaccine rollout was ‘absolutely plain to see’.
Professor Pollard told a cross-party group of politicians: ‘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 added that not having vaccine equity around the world was also a risk to health security, adding: ‘If we have better distribution of vaccines, there is some downward pressure on variants of concern.’
The University of Oxford and AstraZeneca committed previously to providing their Covid vaccine on a not-for-profit basis for the duration of the pandemic across the world, and in perpetuity to low and middle-income countries.