Boris Johnson vows to donate Britain’s surplus Covid vaccines to poorer countries

Boris Johnson vows to donate Britain’s surplus Covid vaccines to poorer countries

19:33 - The Prime Minister is urging world leaders to pool 'collective ingenuity' to tackle future global health crises

Boris Johnson will on Friday vow to donate the majority of Britain’s surplus coronavirus vaccines to poorer countries, as he urges world leaders to pool “collective ingenuity” to tackle future global health crises.

The Prime Minister will chair a virtual gathering of G7 leaders, the first major multilateral engagement attended by new US President Joe Biden, to discuss a joint response to the pandemic.

A 100-day target to develop new vaccines to beat any other novel viruses that emerge will also be set out by Mr Johnson. The ambition slashes the 300 days it took to devise the first approved jab by two-thirds, made by Pfizer/BioNTech, for Covid-19.

In a bid to bolster fairer access to jabs, Mr Johnson will pledge to hand most of the UK's future surplus doses to the Covax programme, a global vaccine-sharing scheme aimed at delivering 1.8 billion doses to 92 poorer nations by the end of this year.

The offer is contingent on a reliable supply chain and will depend on whether new vaccines to tackle mutant strains, or booster doses, are needed in the autumn.

Decisions on timing and the scale of any surplus will be decided later in the year once the UK's domestic vaccination rollout is assured, it is understood.

It is in the national interest – as well as morally imperative – to share surplus stocks abroad, the Government believes, since the virus will still pose a risk to vaccinated Britons if it is able to run rampant abroad and mutate.

Mr Johnson’s announcement, which builds on the UK awarding £548 million to Covax last year, is intended to encourage other wealthy nations to take a joint approach to sharing vaccines via multilateral institutions.

It comes amid fears that China and Russia are donating their domestically-developed vaccines, neither of which have been approved by European regulators so far, to poorer nations for diplomatic leverage.

French President Emmanuel Macron on Thursday urged European countries and the US to donate five per cent of the Covid-19 vaccine supplies to developing nations to curb these influence operations by Beijing and Moscow.

Collaboration on health is set to be a key theme of the UK’s year-long presidency of the G7, which also includes the US, Canada, France, Germany, Italy and Japan. Mr Johnson hopes to expand the alliance to a wider “D10” of democracies, including India, Australia and South Korea.

Moves are afoot by the Prime Minister to persuade G7 leaders, who will meet face-to-face at a summit in Cornwall in June, to sign a treaty on pandemic preparedness through the World Health Organisation (WHO).

UK chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance has meanwhile been tasked to work with the WHO and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), which first outlined the 100-day ambition to develop new jabs, to advise the G7 on accelerating the process of devising vaccines.

Along with industry and scientific experts, they will look to boost international collaboration to intensify research and development, modernise medical trials and create more innovative vaccine manufacturing and supply chains.

Speaking ahead of the meeting on Friday, the Prime Minister said: “Perhaps more than ever, the hopes of the world rest on the shoulders of scientists and over the last year, like countless times before, they have risen to the challenge.

“The development of viable coronavirus vaccines offers the tantalising prospect of a return to normality, but we must not rest on our laurels. As leaders of the G7 we must say: never again.”

He added: “By harnessing our collective ingenuity, we can ensure we have the vaccines, treatments and tests to be battle-ready for future health threats, as we beat Covid-19 and build back better together.”

Mr Macron warned on Thursday that poorer countries were having to pay “astronomical prices” for western vaccines or resort to using the Chinese and Russian jabs, neither of which have been approved for use by regulators in Europe.

In an interview with the Financial Times, the French president suggested that “we are allowing the idea to take hold that hundreds of millions of vaccines are being given in rich countries and that we are not starting in poor countries”.

He has overseen a slow start to France's domestic vaccination programme, which just administered jabs to just 3.17 million people, while the UK has inoculated 16.5 million.

“It’s an unprecedented acceleration of global inequality and it’s politically unsustainable too because it’s paving the way for a war of influence over vaccines,” the president said, adding: “You can see the Chinese strategy, you can see the Russian strategy too.”

Moscow has brokered deals with more than 50 countries for its Sputnik V vaccine, including EU member Hungary and membership-hopeful Serbia. Belgrade also joined the vaccine diplomacy game, donating 2,000 Sputnik doses to neighbour Montenegro.

Ursula von der Leyen, the European Commission President, said on Thursday that “we still wonder why Russia is offering theoretically millions of millions of doses while not sufficiently progressing in vaccinating their own people”.

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