Vaccine hoarding at expense of other countries 'could come back to haunt us’, medical expert warns

PENRITH, ENGLAND - MARCH 25: A supply of the AstraZeneca/Oxford University Covid-19 Vaccine is stored in a fridge at the Penrith Auction Mart Vaccination Centre on March 25, 2021 in Penrith, England. Nearly 29 million people have received their first dose of a Covid-19 vaccine in the UK, with more than 2.5 million having received a second dose. (Photo by Ian Forsyth/Getty Images)
A supply of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine is stored in a fridge at the Penrith Auction Mart Vaccination Centre in Penrith, Cumbria. (Getty)

With nearly 30 million people in the UK having had at least one dose of a COVID vaccine, the government remains on target to ease restrictions in the coming weeks.

However, even as coronavirus cases and deaths continue to fall in the UK, a leading medic has warned that if other countries are not able to ramp up their vaccination programmes, the pandemic “will continue for months and years”.

Sir Jeremy Farrar, a professor of tropical medicine and the director of heath research charity Wellcome Trust, said ensuring every country receives vaccine supplies is the best protection against new variants.

He warned that new variants could appear anywhere and “come back to haunt us in our own countries”.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “Supplying vaccines to the world is actually the way we can protect ourselves in our own countries as well, because the biggest risk at the moment for this pandemic is that new variants appear anywhere in the world and eventually come back to haunt us in our own countries.

“And if we allow that to happen by increasing transmission around the world and by not offering vaccines around the world then this pandemic will continue for months and years to come.

“The best way out of this is to make vaccines available globally.”

Farrar said global vaccine rollout was a “public health necessity”, as well as a “social, a financial, an economic and indeed political imperative”.

On Monday, the head of the World Health Organization launched an extraordinary attack on vaccine rollouts in wealthier countries, branding the race to protect their entire populations at the expense of those in poorer countries "grotesque”.

Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said it was “shocking” how little rich countries have done to avert a “catastrophic moral failure” that he previously warned of in January.

Watch: PM warns against EU blockading vaccine exports

Tedros said: “Countries that are now vaccinating younger, healthy people at low risk of disease are doing so at the cost of the lives of health workers, older people and other at-risk groups in other countries."

The comments came as the UK and EU set up talks to resolve a dispute over vaccine supplies and Boris Johnson warned that a trade war over jabs would result in “considerable” and “long-term” damage.

A joint statement said the two sides were seeking a “win-win” deal to increase supplies across the UK and EU.

The European Commission recently said it may stem supplies of jabs to nations faring better in the pandemic as the bloc’s states faced a third wave of cases.

But Farrar said export bans would have “huge ramifications” that could affect countries like India, where the Serum Institute “has been a fantastic manufacturing base for vaccines for global supply”.

A couple take a 'selfie' photograph in Westminster, near to a sign for a Covid-19 Vaccination Centre in central London on March 22, 2021. - Britain will on March 23, 2021, mark the anniversary of the first coronavirus lockdown with a
A sign points to a COVID-19 vaccination centre in central London. (Getty)

Describing the move by the EU on vaccine exports as “very regrettable”, Farrar added: “I hope that the communique that was issued last night of moving towards a diplomatic and political solution to this… comes through in the coming hours and days, because we are all dependent on this.

“Supply chains of how we make vaccines are, by necessity, international, they cross borders.

“We need to make vaccines available to everybody, we need to have a free flow of contracts, contracts honoured, so that we can get vaccines not just to our own countries but all around the world.”

Admitting the EU is a COVID “hotspot”, the European Commission said on Wednesday it may not approve exports to nations with more advanced vaccine rollouts or where there is a better “epidemiological situation”.

Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson receives his first dose of the AstraZeneca/Oxford Covid-19 vaccine, administered by nurse and Clinical Pod Lead, Lily Harrington, at the vaccination centre in St Thomas' Hospital in London on March 19, 2021. - British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Wednesday he will take the vaccine developed by AstraZeneca after a number of European countries halted their rollout of the jab over safety fears. (Photo by Frank Augstein / POOL / AFP) (Photo by FRANK AUGSTEIN/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)
Boris Johnson receives his first dose of the AstraZeneca/Oxford COVID-19 vaccine at the vaccination centre in St Thomas' Hospital, London. (Getty)

The EU announced a stem to the supply of COVID jabs after it became embroiled in a row with AstraZeneca over supplies, but also did not rule out Pfizer jabs being restricted to the UK if sufficient vaccines are not shipped to the bloc.

Member states were told to consider “reciprocity”, whether the destination country restricts its own vaccine exports, when authorising exports as the commission struck out against an alleged lack of British shipments.

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Commission executive vice-president Valdis Dombrovskis denied the export authorisation mechanism was targeted at any one country but said 10 million jabs had moved from the EU to the UK since it introduced checks and that “zero doses” had returned from British plants.

Across the EU, just over 11% of adults have received a first dose of a COVID vaccine, while in the UK the figure is more than 54%.

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