‘Share your vaccines’, wealthy countries told

Ella Pickover, PA Health Correspondent
·4-min read

Wealthy countries should stop their “self-defeating” Covid-19 vaccine strategies and share their vaccines once they have jabbed their health workers and those most at risk, global health leaders have said.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) and Unicef said that when countries have vaccinated their health and care workforce and their highest at-risk groups they should share their vaccines.

This would mean that other countries can do the same, they said.

Meanwhile a former government adviser on immunisations said that there is “no need” for countries to have eight times their  population in vaccine supplies”.

Professor David Salisbury, a former director of immunisation at the Department of Health, said that countries with vast amounts of vaccine on order should talk to manufacturers about “taking a step back” from those commitments so they can get the vaccines at a later date – which would allow other countries to get their jabs sooner.

Almost 130 countries – with a combined population of 2.5 billion people – are yet to deliver a single vaccine, WHO and Unicef said.

Meanwhile, of the 128 million jabs delivered so far, three-quarters of these have taken place in just 10 countries.

In a joint statement titled “In the Covid-19 vaccine race, we either win together or lose together”, Unicef executive director Henrietta Fore and WHO director general Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said: “Of the 128 million vaccine doses administered so far, more than three-quarters of those vaccinations are in just 10 countries that account for 60% of global GDP.

“As of today, almost 130 countries, with 2.5 billion people, are yet to administer a single dose.

“This self-defeating strategy will cost lives and livelihoods, give the virus further opportunity to mutate and evade vaccines and will undermine a global economic recovery.

“Today, Unicef and WHO – partners for more than 70 years – call on leaders to look beyond their borders and employ a vaccine strategy that can actually end the pandemic and limit variants.”

The organisations have also called for vaccine manufacturers to allocate the limited vaccine supply “equitably”.

The statement adds: “We need global leadership to scale up vaccine production and achieve vaccine equity.

“Covid-19 has shown that our fates are inextricably linked. Whether we win or lose, we will do so together.”

Around the world more than 107 million cases of Covid-19 have been recorded and there have been more than 2.3 million deaths.

Prof Salisbury said that the concept was an “understandable position” but it was “politically difficult”.

Asked about the issue at a Chatham House briefing, Prof Salisbury said: “Well, the rationale is straightforward and once you have protected people aged 50 and over, and those with co-morbidities, you will have done an enormous amount to push down hospital admissions and deaths.

“You will have done a huge amount (some) 98% of the deaths may well have been averted by such strategies.

“Then saying ‘we have surplus vaccine, we ought to give it to people whose needs are much greater’ – that’s, that’s a very honourable and understandable position.

“Whether it happens, I think is a different question and politically that’s not an easy choice to say: ‘OK, that’s enough, we’re not going to protect other people, we’re not going to protect teachers, we’re not going to protect people who drive buses, we’re not going to protect people who are in occupations like the police, because they’re not in a risk group.

“And we’re going to leave them exposed’.

“So politically I think it’s difficult.

“I think that there is another dimension that people really should be thinking about and that is the countries who have already contracted for huge volumes in excess of what they will require or to be talking at the earliest opportunity with a manufacturer is about being able to step back from some of those volume commitments, so that that so that capacity would be freed up for redistribution to other places.

“There is no need to have eight times your country’s population in vaccine supplies.”

But when probed he said it become politically more difficult if it was found that the vaccines reduce transmission.