Every developed country at the G7 this weekend has twin objectives: vaccinate your own population; and help vaccinate the world. And both as fast as possible.
On the first, Britain gets a big tick. Over half the nation is now fully vaccinated. I still believe it is right to offer those who have been vaccinated greater freedom from restriction including international travel, with special arrangements for the small number who cannot for medical reasons be vaccinated or for whom they’re not effective. Summer holidays abroad needn’t be completely off the agenda. Domestically, cities like London could follow New York’s Excelsior pass, allowing, for example, Lloyd Webber to put on his shows even if national restrictions remain. And it would be of enormous importance to countering vaccine hesitancy if we published the full figures for Pfizer and Astra Zeneca, not in percentages but in total numbers, because I believe they would show the overwhelming efficacy of both vaccines.
But, in general, on vaccines, Britain has done well. However, it is clear with the surge in the Delta variant originating in India, that we, in Britain, remain at risk of new mutations and therefore getting vaccines out at least to the most vulnerable in the developing world is in our self-interest. And we are not practically in the position of New Zealand where we can shut ourselves off from the rest of the world completely.
President Biden’s announcement of additional Pfizer vaccines is great news and should be followed by the UK and the EU. We need even in 2021 to vaccinate the most vulnerable, the frontline health workers and the main urban populations to prevent the likelihood of more variants emerging.
Within this are two objectives that run in parallel. First, an immediate two-week sprint to share doses with countries that have insufficient vaccine supply for their healthcare workers and at-risk urban populations, mitigating the impact of the Delta variant. Second, we need a 200-day plan to reduce transmission in every country and prevent new vaccine-resistant variants arising.
The two-week sprint will mitigate the impact of the Delta variant on healthcare systems by inoculating the 80 to 90 million unvaccinated healthcare and frontline workers around the world. Failure to do so could spark global chaos of a magnitude yet unseen, as well as an unimaginable death toll. The Delta variant is 40 to 60 per cent more transmissible than the dominant strain in the UK and we are already in the hold of a third wave here, with vaccine uptake preventing mass hospitalisations and death. Abroad, there is no such vaccine barrier, with just 11.68 per cent of the world’s adult population receiving one dose. This must be addressed without delay.
Two hundred days from the end of the G7 takes us to December 31 and by this point, we should commit to having fully vaccinated key workers, the vulnerable and those in densely populated areas — a total of 2.1 billion people (outside of OECD and Russia/China). This would mark a turning point in the management of the pandemic as we enter the new year with a reduced threat of new strains and declining hospitalisations.
Both objectives require excess doses to be shared strategically, only going to countries which can actually use them and into the arms of people who need them most.
Longer-term, manufacturing should be boosted and the tap left running on vaccine production in G7 nations — even once everyone in these countries has been vaccinated.
Support must also be given now to build the capacity in-country ready for when the vaccines arrive. Britain built vaccine infrastructure in months and there is no reason why these lessons cannot be shared with other countries. The people who built vaccine centres in the UK should be sharing their blueprints with health leaders the world over and our international aid — far from being cut — should be repurposed to directly support building the centres.
Similarly, we should continue to combat rising vaccine hesitancy, drawing on the data of the G7 nations which overwhelmingly show that being fully vaccinated — regardless of brand — protects and preserves lives.
Of course, a plan is nothing without leadership and accountability. It needs to be grasped and delivered in coordination with other organisations, such as WHO and COVAX. This is the challenge for the G7 and the world depends on the members rising to it.