Britain appears likely to roll out a vaccine booster programme next month, based on advice from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation.
We would not be the first nation to do so. Israel, which led the world on vaccines and is now enduring a fourth Covid wave, has been administering third doses to people over 60 since July.
It is a reality that responsive governments will always seek to protect their own citizens first. Yet we are also surely aware of the trade-off. Not only in moral terms, with people in rich countries getting their third jab before billions in the Global South have even received a first, but hard-nosed self-interest too.
Less than two per cent of Africa’s 1.3 billion people have received a jab. Covid ripping through vast swathes of the unvaccinated world dramatically increases the likelihood of a new, potentially jab-evading variant.
Bill Gates has called on more high-income nations to share vaccine doses faster and more funding for lower income countries — he is right. But beyond sharing doses, we must go further.
That is why the Evening Standard has launched Vaccine for the World, a year-long undertaking aimed at building a global approach to vaccination.
Africa contains 17 per cent of the world’s population, but is only able to produce one per cent of its vaccine needs. And where vaccines are manufactured matters. Supplies of the AstraZeneca vaccine to Covax dried up following India’s decision to prevent exports from the Serum Institute to concentrate on its own wave of the virus.
We need a war-like footing to support governments and the private sector in Africa to leverage local expertise to boost vaccine manufacturing capability in the continent.
That is the surest way to ensure countries are not reliant on Covax and the goodwill of other nations, something we have seen is not always on hand.
There is some progress being made. The Biovac Institute in South Afriica recently reached agreement with Pfizer and BioNTech to manufacture 100 million doses a yearof their vaccine.
This is a start but we need a concerted effort, not only for now, but to ensure that low-income countries around the world are better prepared for the next pandemic.