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UK And US Urged To Donate Millions More Covid Vaccines To Address Global Shortfall

4 min read

The world’s leading charities have said G7 countries need to significantly up their offer to donate 600 million covid vaccines more quickly to help address the shortfall in the poorest nations.

Boris Johnson announced at the G7 in Cornwall that the UK will provide 100 million surplus vaccine doses to be delivered next year, but with five million to be given by the end of September and 25 million by the end of the year.

US President Joe Biden promised 500 million doses of Pfizer vaccines to 92 low and middle-income countries and the African Union.

But the UK Committee for UNICEF said today that the “volume and speed” of donations needs to accelerate and COVAX, the international programme that is trying to ensure the poorest countries get vaccines, is facing an immediate 190 million shortfall in vaccines this month.

The World Health Organisation is reported to have said 11 billion vaccines are needed worldwide to provide 70% of the global population with two doses.

Joanna Rea, Director of Advocacy, the UK Committee for UNICEF UK said: “The UK Committee for UNICEF (UNICEF UK) welcomes the UK Government’s pledge to donate 100 million Covid-19 vaccine doses, including 5 million in the coming months. Donating vaccines to the world right now is what’s needed to put an end to this pandemic. 

“However, the volume and speed of vaccine donations needs to accelerate to ensure they get to the countries that need them most. Currently, COVAX has a shortfall of 190 million vaccines so urgent action is essential to overcome the acute supply shortages and address the immediate need to save lives and protect us all from future variants. G7 governments including the UK can do this and still be on track to meet their own national vaccination targets.”

Annoucing the UK's vaccine donation pledge on Monday, Johnson said: "As a result of the success of the UK's vaccine programme we are now in a position to share some of our surplus doses with those who need them.

"In doing so we will take a massive step towards beating this pandemic for good."

He is hopeful that other world leaders, who arrive at the summit in Carbis Bay on the Cornish coast today, will donate more surplus vaccines, and between them that they will provide one billion doses.

However the British Red Cross’ executive director Zoe Abrams said she welcomed the UK commitment but “more needs to be done, and fast."

Oxfam America warned that the rate of US donations of surplus vaccines to poorer countries was potentially too slow.

She said: "At the current rate of vaccinations, it would take low-income countries 57 years to reach the same level of protection as those in G7 countries.”

Save The Children’s executive director of policy, Kirsty McNeill, told the BBC’s Radio 4 Today programme that the G7 needed to commit to sharing patents as well as doses but crucially, they need to share the cost of the providing the vaccines in the first place. They estimate it would cost at least £35 billion ($50 billion) to “vaccinate the world”.

The UK’s Vaccines Minister, Nadhim Zahawi, told the BBC one of the aims of the G7 is for the member nations to pledge one billion vaccines between them, and highlighted that Oxford-AstraZenca has already promised to create 500 million doses for low and middle income countries for no profit.

Zahawi said the British government had put in £548 million to buy jabs for COVAX, and were the first country to do so. He noted that the money for the 100 million doses is on top of their £10 billion ODA [overseas aid budget] budget.

Former Prime Minister Gordon Brown, however, criticised the fact the government has slashed its aid budget from £14 billion to £10 billion, which he said could fund vaccines for countries overseas.

“If we withdraw the money for vaccination it’s the equivalent of pulling away the needle from the kid or adult who is sick and needs the vaccination,” he told BBC Breakfast.

“This is not the right time to pull things away. This is when the poorest countries need things the most.”

He said a payment due to the UK shortly from the International Monetary Fund worth $23 billion could cover the aid budget cuts.

“It’s in our self interest to see the others vaccinated because nobody is safe until everybody is safe,” he said.

“If the disease spreads in Africa and elsewhere because we’ve cut the overseas aid budget and we’re not allowing people to be vaccinated, then it will come back to haunt us. It’s not just an act of compassion. It’s an act of self-interest and self-protection.”

COVAX, which is coordinating surplus vaccines going to poorer nations is jointly led by the World Health Organisation, Gavi – the Vaccine Alliance, CEPI, with UNICEF delivering the jabs on the ground.

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