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Minister Says Government Must "Balance" UK Vaccine Need With Giving To Poorer Countries

3 min read

A health minister has rejected suggestions that the UK is not giving enough Covid-19 vaccines to poorer countries, insisting that ministers have a duty to keep British people safe from the illness.

George Freeman said ministers had to strike a "balance" between supporting the global rollout through the Covax programme, and ensuring the UK had enough jabs to protect its own people from continued threat posed by Covid-19.

"We have got another variant [Omicron] and the British public would expect us to make sure we are providing the supply here in the UK," he told Sky News' Kay Burley.

"This is a balance: we have got to make sure our citizens are safe, and that the global vaccine rollout through Covax is supported. That is what we are committed to doing."

The government has announced that it has ordered 114m more Pfizer and Moderna vaccines for the UK over the next two years, in what Prime Minister Boris Johnson described as "future proofing our lifesaving vaccine programme".

Sajid Javid, the Health Secretary, said: "Thanks to the Vaccines Taskforce, we have an excellent track record of securing the vaccines the country needs to keep this virus at bay.

"These new deals will future proof the Great British vaccination effort — which has so far delivered more than 115 million first, second and booster jabs across the U.K. — and will ensure we can protect even more people in the years ahead."

This fresh order is expected to made up of 60m doses of Moderna jabs and 54m of Pfizer/BioNTech.

The Prime Minister, who is receiving his booster jab today, is also set to host a roundtable of pharmaceutical leaders in Downing Street where they will discuss the effort to share vaccines with poorer nations. 

But the government has been accused of failing to meet its promise to poorer nations, which have so far only managed to vaccinate small percentages of their populations.

Just 11.5m of the 100m doses promised to poorer nations by the UK as part of the global Covax programme have so far been delivered, The Times has reported.

Freeman insisted that disruption to international supply chains was holding up the sharing of vaccine with poorer governments, not countries like the UK failing to fulfill its promises.

"Nobody is saying we're not globally vaccinating enough because the UK hasn't supported," the minister said.

"We have supported that 100m, they are in the pipeline. That's not the issue."

However, Anil Soni, CEO of the WHO Foundation rejected Freeman's claim that international supply chain disruption was to blame in his own interview with Sky News this morning.

"There are more than 800m excess doses in high-income countries across the G7, including the UK. That is a lot of doses that can be distributed," he told host Burley.

He described the failure of wealthier nations to share more coronavirus vaccines with poorer countries as a "tragedy" for which governments like the US must bear responsibility.

"I am incredibly disappointed in anyone, any government, any leader, who has faciliated the inequity such that people who are in high-income countries including myself and my family, have access and are priveledged and protected, but my relatives in other parts of the world don't have access," he said.

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