UK Will Share Coronavirus Vaccines With Other Countries Only After It's Hit Roll Out Targets, Liz Truss Says
International Trade Secretary Liz Truss this morning dropped a big hint that the UK would give spare doses of coronavirus vaccines to other countries once it has hit its own roll out targets.
“It won’t benefit people in Britain if we become a vaccinated island and many other countries don’t have the vaccine, because the virus will continue to spread,” she told Sky News's Ridge on Sunday.
She said: “It’s a bit too early to say how we would deploy excess vaccines but we’d certainly want to work with friends and neighbours, we want to work with developing countries, because we are only going to solve this issue once everybody in the world is vaccinated".
In other coronavirus developments:
Generosity and cross-border cooperation were the themes of the day on Sunday, perhaps expectedly, after a week when the race between world leaders to secure jabs for their populations escalated into an extraordinary diplomatic row between the UK and the European Union.
The dust was still settling this morning after the European Commission on Friday night withdrew an explosive decision just hours earlier to invoke Article 16 of the Northern Ireland Protocol – a move that would have effectively imposed a border on the island of Ireland and undone years of hard work by EU and UK negotiators to not let Brexit disrupt the fragile status quo in Northern Ireland.
The bloc hastily U-turned after a furious backlash from virtually all sides of British politics, as well as from the Irish government.
The EU very nearly took the nuclear option of overriding the Brexit deal for Northern Ireland as a last-ditch means of limiting the number of vaccine doses exported to the UK from Europe. Some EU member states have had to pause their rollouts amid a shortage of vaccines on the continent.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has since given Prime Minister Boris Johnson a “very important assurance” that supplies to the UK “won’t be disrupted,” Truss told Ridge.
Brussels and Westminster will be very keen to put the episode behind them and that spirit of coming together – or attempting to, at least – was evident in Truss’ interview this morning.
Similarly, vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi this weekend told The Telegraph that the UK was ready to help the EU with its vaccine rollout, declaring: “This is about collaboration".
Former health secretary Jeremy Hunt, who chairs the health and social care committee, threw his support behind the UK giving surplus vaccine doses to the rest of the world, telling Ridge: “I think it goes without saying we are not safe until everyone is safe".
He said the Oxford-AstraZenica vaccine could make an “enormous difference” in Africa because “it can be transported at low temperatures and it is very cheap".
One man who may well get the chance to offer the government his thoughts on how best to share coronavirus vaccines with the rest of the world is former prime minister, Tony Blair.
This morning Blair confirmed numerous recent reports that he had been advising ministers on their pandemic response, telling Ridge: “Yes of course I speak to people in government”.
He said: “As I always to say to people, this is the biggest challenge governments the world over have ever faced, certainly in living memory, of the logistics nature.
“So, I’m not critical of the government, but where we can propose things we think are helpful, like relying on the single dose, we will do it because everyone may as well play a part if they can if it can get us through this thing quicker".
The former Labour leader also came to the defence of the party’s current leader, Sir Keir Starmer, whose calls for the government to vaccinate teachers during the February half term has attracted criticism.
Blair insisted that there was a “very strong case” for moving teachers up the vaccine priority list, arguing that you could vaccine all of them in the space of just two days. “I would need a very compelling argument not to think it was a good idea to do that,” he said.
Rachel Reeves, Labour’s Shadow Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, defended the policy during her appearance on the Andrew Marr show, telling Marr that Labour wanted to vaccinate teachers only once the top four priority groups had received the jab.
“When schools went back at the beginning of September, within a couple of weeks 25,000 teachers were out of the classroom having to self-isolate,” she said.
“The only way we are going to get kids back to school, is not banding around dates like the government are doing, but putting in place a proper plan”.