Failure to share Covid jabs a ‘historic moral catastrophe’, says Gordon Brown

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The former British prime minister is working with the World Health Organization to promote fair access to the vaccines - PA
The former British prime minister is working with the World Health Organization to promote fair access to the vaccines - PA

The failure of rich nations to share Covid-19 vaccines is a "moral catastrophe of historic proportions", Britain's former prime minister, Gordon Brown, has warned.

Speaking at a World Health Organization (WHO) press conference, Mr Brown said the inequity would "shock future generations". He suggested that as many as five million lives may hang in the balance depending on whether G20 countries commit to immediately donating their surplus doses to unprotected countries. The next G20 summit is on 31 October, in Rome.

Mr Brown, who is a WHO advisor, said on Thursday: "I am here today to issue a warning. In the ongoing race between the virus and vaccines, we are once again at a moment of truth. The next 10 days to October 31 will be decisive.

"If, at the G20, the world's richest countries cannot expedite airlifting vaccines immediately, it will be an epidemiological, economic and ethical dereliction of duty that will shame us all."

Analysis from Airfinity, a global data platform, suggests that rich countries will have a stockpile of 600 million spare vaccines by the end of this year and one billion by February 2022, even taking into account booster campaigns and vaccinating teenagers.

Mr Brown said that 240 million vaccines are already lying unused in the west, and 100 million could expire in coming months and face destruction unless action is taken quickly.

"There is no greater cause today than acting decisively now to bridge the unacceptable divide between the world's vaccine rich and vaccine poor," he said. A lack of action would represent a "moral catastrophe of historic proportions that will shock future generations."

Targets to vaccinate 10 per cent of populations in countries around the world were missed in September, and the new aim of reaching 40 per cent by the end of the year was also in peril, he warned.

Without immediate steps to transfer vaccine doses and contracts to the world's poorest countries, the WHO forecasts 200 million more coronavirus cases in the next year.

"Five million lives hang in the balance," Mr Brown said. "If this is the case, we are only a little more than half way through the damage caused by the pandemic."

Mr Brown's impassioned intervention comes after a week in which governments and insiders claimed that efforts to donate doses were being hamstrung by vaccine manufacturers "dragging their feet".

At least 115,000 medics have died during pandemic

At the same press conference, the WHO also revealed new data suggesting that at least 115,000 healthcare workers may have died in the course of the pandemic.

A new working paper from the body bases its figures on the 3.45m Covid deaths reported globally - itself an underestimate. Just 7,000 healthcare worker deaths have been reported to the WHO, as the numbers are not routinely tracked by governments.

International Council of Nurses chief executive Howard Catton, who worked on the figures, said the lack of reporting was deplorable and the true total may be above 200,000.

ICN President Annette Kennedy compared the figures to the aviation industry ignoring plane crashes every day for a week.

"Many of these deaths were needless, many we could have saved," she said. "Is it that healthcare workers' lives mean so little? Is it that we cannot look after them and protect them? Is it that governments do not realise they have a duty of care? It's a shocking indictment of governments' failures to protect health workers, who paid the ultimate sacrifice, with their lives."

WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said it was an ongoing issue, citing figures which suggest that only two in five healthcare workers are fully vaccinated in 119 countries.

Those figures mask country-by-country disparities, he added: for example, the WHO estimates that less than one in 10 healthcare workers in Africa have been fully vaccinated, whereas in high-income countries more than 80 percent are double-jabbed.

However, it is unclear when the figures date from, as numbers are patchy: healthcare workers have been prioritised in vaccine roll-outs around the world, and after Burundi began vaccinations this week, there are now only two countries yet to start, Eritrea and North Korea.

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