UK vaccination success could be ‘reversed’ unless jabs shared globally, warns Unicef

·4 min read
Sharing vaccines will help prevent further spread of variants and help open up society for children, says charity (EPA)
Sharing vaccines will help prevent further spread of variants and help open up society for children, says charity (EPA)

The UK could share 20 per cent of its available Covid-19 vaccine doses from June to aid global recovery and still meet its target to give all adults their first shot by the end of July, Unicef UK has said.

The charity warned the success of the country’s vaccination programme could be “reversed” and it could face a fresh wave of infections from mutations of the virus unless more is done to share vaccines around the globe.

Unicef UK called on the government and other G7 countries to start sharing vaccines through the vaccine sharing facility Covax from June to ensure vulnerable people can be vaccinated. The move would help prevent further spread of variants and help open up society for children, it said.

“We’ve been dealing with the fact that significant stress has been put on global suppliers of vaccines at the moment, and that is limiting the effectiveness of Covax and the rollout of vaccines to low/middle-income countries,” Liam Sollis, head of policy at Unicef UK, told The Independent.

“One of the key short term solutions to that is to look at the flow of supply to high income countries like the UK and the rest of the G7, and to be able to share some doses with Covax and therefore make up for some of the shortfalls in the current supply forecasts.”

So far the UK has secured one in every 25 vaccines forecast to be supplied in 2021, despite accounting for under 1 per cent of the world’s population, according to a data analysis commissioned by Unicef UK and provided by Airfinity.

It is expected to have 347 million doses available at the end of 2021 if all vaccines are approved, while less than 2 per cent of the world’s Covid-19 vaccines have been administered across the continent of Africa.

Mr Sollis added that there was a self interest factor at play, with “the stronger the global vaccine distribution programme that we have, the better able we are to protect ourselves from new variants of the disease emerging.”

“With every month we wait, we risk a new outbreak or new spikes of the pandemic in a different area,” Mr Sollis said. “We’ve got the capacity to act now, so let’s do it.”

Unicef UK’s director of advocacy, Joanna Rea, said: "The UK has done a fantastic job in rolling out Covid-19 vaccines to more than half of its adult population and we should all be proud of what has been achieved.

"However, we can't ignore that the UK and other G7 countries have purchased over a third of the world's vaccine supply, despite making up only 13 per cent of the global population - and we risk leaving low-income countries behind.

"Unless the UK urgently starts sharing its available doses to ensure others around the world are protected from the virus, the UK will not be safe from Covid-19.

"Our vaccine rollout success could be reversed and the NHS could be fighting another wave of the virus due to deadly mutations."

The Unicef UK analysis indicated that once every adult in the UK has been vaccinated and booster doses provided to high-risk groups, there would be enoughs surplus doses in 2021 to fully vaccinate 50 million people globally, rising to 115 million people if all vaccines currently in phase three trials were approved. It would increase global supply well in excess of the 59 million doses shipped by Covax so far.

A YouGov poll commissioned by the charity found 85 per cent of the UK public support the government sharing surplus doses with other countries.

It comes as Professor Chris Whitty, the chief medical officer for England, said the way to prevent or minimise the number of new variants is to "get on top of" the pandemic globally.

Meanwhile, the World Health Organisation said there was a "shocking disparity" in access to Covid-19 vaccines between rich and poor countries.

WHO director general Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told a press briefing: "The shocking global disparity in access to Covid-19 vaccines remains one of the biggest risks to ending the pandemic.

"High and upper-middle income countries represent 53 per cent of the world's population, but have received 83% of the world's vaccines.

"By contrast, low and lower-middle income countries account for 47 per cent of the world's population, but have received just 17 per cent of the world's vaccines."

He added: "How quickly we end the Covid-19 pandemic and how many sisters and brothers we lose along on the way, depends on how quickly and how fairly we vaccinate a significant proportion of the population and how consistently we all follow proven public health measures."

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