Covid vaccines: UK to donate surplus, urges G7 to follow suit

Prime Minister Boris Johnson virtually chairs the weekly Cabinet Meeting and uses a G7 mug. (Source: Keystone)

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson will pledge to donate most of the UK's surplus vaccine supply to low income countries and call for faster vaccine production for future health crises in a virtual G7 meeting on Friday.

Johnson will urge world leaders to support the efforts to speed up the development of new vaccines, whilst also calling for surplus doses to be distributed to poorer countries.

Ahead of the G7 meeting, he said “quantum leaps in science have given us the vaccines we need to end this pandemic for good. Now world governments have a responsibility to work together to put those vaccines to the best possible use. I hope 2021 will be remembered as the year humanity worked together like never before to defeat a common foe”.

The G7, made up of the UK, US, Germany, France, Italy, Canada and Japan, is expected to take the lead on developing vaccines for future diseases, as Johnson reveals the ambitious plan to develop future doses in 100 days rather than the unprecedented 300 days achieved for Covid-19. Calling world leaders to “work together on a joined-up global approach to pandemics that brings an end to the nationalist and divisive politics that marred the initial response to coronavirus.”

The Prime Minister hopes this will change the narrative that the richest countries are hoarding Covid-19 vaccines.

UN secretary general António Guterres said on Wednesday that the distribution of vaccines across the globe was “wildly unfair and uneven”.

Only ten countries account for 75 per cent of the vaccine doses distributed so far, “meanwhile, almost 130 countries, with 2.5 billion people, have yet to administer a single dose,” World Health Organization (WHO) director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said last week.

Rather than send the vaccines directly to low income countries, the G7 leaders will be encouraged by Johnson to fund the vaccine sharing scheme aimed at equitable distribution worldwide known as Covax, also confirming the UK will send the majority of any future surplus shots to the scheme.

The WHO gave the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine the go-ahead for emergency use, making up the largest of the Covax portfolio. This comes at a time where the UK pledges to send £548 million to the scheme.

Across the English Channel, French President Emmanuel Macron, on Thursday proposed a parallel plan calling on European countries and the US to send five per cent of their vaccines to poorer countries, after accusations the G7 countries have jointly preordered 1.5bn doses over the amount of jabs needed for their collective populations. Macron told the Financial Times: “We are allowing the idea to take hold that hundreds of millions of vaccines are being given in rich countries and we are not starting in poor countries. It’s an unprecedented acceleration of global inequality and it’s politically unsustainable too because it is paving the way for a war of influence over vaccines.” Macron further  proposed  that each country in Europe should set aside a number of its vaccines for distribution in Africa.

China and Russia’s role in the vaccine distribution has been playing on the minds of the G7 members, as they fall behind in the “vaccine diplomacy”. “It’s an unprecedented acceleration of global inequality and it’s politically unsustainable too because it is paving the way for a war of influence over vaccines. You can see the Chinese strategy and the Russian strategy too,” said Macron.

Hoping to take part in the vaccine diplomacy, Boris Johnson has asked Sir Patrick Vallance, the UK’s top scientific adviser, to work with international partners, including the WHO and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI).

Earlier this year CEPI proposed the ambitious plan to cut the vaccination development process time to 100 days, a third of the time it took to develop the coronavirus vaccine, which was considered a great global achievement.

To achieve this the UK believes it is vital to foster international collaboration in efforts to intensify research and development, modernise medical trials and create more innovative vaccine manufacturing and supply chains, to speed up the process, help save lives and prevent future pandemics. 

United States President Joe Biden, making his debut on the world stage, will also attend the G7 meeting where he will lay out plans to combat the Covid-19 pandemic and rebuild the world economy.

His focus areas include “coordination on vaccine production, distribution, and supplies, as well as continued efforts to mobilize and cooperate against the threat of emerging infectious diseases by building country capacity and establishing health security financing,” a White House statement released Sunday evening said.

Last May, former US President Donald Trump said he was postponing the G7 summit, “because I don't feel that as a G7 it probably represents what's going on in the world”.

Since taking office, Biden has recommitted the United States to the WHO and climate action, sharing Johnson’s slogan to “build back better”, which is set to underline the G7 meeting.

With this collaborative approach, “President Biden will also discuss [the] need to make investments to strengthen our collective competitiveness and the importance of updating global rules to tackle economic challenges such as those posed by China,” the White House said.

The president will also advocate for a robust agenda of measures to address the global “climate crisis", as Britain prepares to host the UN's next climate summit, COP26, in Scotland this upcoming November.

Athough the global coronavirus cases have declined in the last weeks up to 16 per cent, the new variants threaten to curb the efforts against the virus.

 In the UK the announcement of a new variant, B1525 and the possibility of a worrying set of mutations has definitely put a spanner in the works. 

Highlighted in a report by researchers at the University of Edinburgh, who say it has been found in 13 countries including the UK, USA and France, three of the G7 countries.

So far there are 44 known cases in the UK and Professor Yvonne Doyle from Public Health England (PHE) said: “PHE is monitoring data about emerging variants very closely and where necessary public health interventions are being undertaken, such as extra testing and enhanced contact tracing.”

To fight the current and future pandemics, Johnson will call an end to the “nationalist and divisive politics”. After this preliminary online G7 meeting and as chair hosting this year, he hopes to convene the first in-person G7 summit in June after nearly two years.