It is “too early to say” whether the UK will give some of its vaccine supply to other countries, a cabinet minister said on Sunday.
During an appearance on BBC1’s Andrew Marr Show, minister for international trade Liz Truss was asked whether vaccines could be given to other countries when everybody in the UK is vaccinated.
So far, the UK has ordered 367 million doses of several different COVID vaccines, Truss said, with the government aiming to vaccinate the entire population by the autumn.
On Saturday, the World Health Organization (WHO) urged the UK to place on hold its vaccination programme after vulnerable groups have received their jabs to help ensure the global rollout is fair.
Truss said Britain would work with other countries, including developing nations, to deliver vaccinations and warned that vaccine nationalism is “fundamentally problematic”.
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“The UK has led in terms of things like the COVAX programme, we've created the Oxford vaccine, which is a relatively low-cost, easy-to-deploy vaccine,” Truss said.
She added: “Of course, we first need to make sure that our population is vaccinated. We have a target to get the most vulnerable vaccinated by mid-February.
“It's a bit too early to say about how we would deploy 'XX' vaccine, but we certainly want to work with friends and neighbours, we want to work with developing countries because we're only going to solve this issue once everybody in the world is vaccinated.
“We're also working to keep trade flowing, which is really important, keep tariffs low or eliminated on medical goods and supplies so that we can make sure that all the world benefits from the expertise here in the United Kingdom.”
"Vaccine protectionism is fundamentally problematic", she said.
A row between the UK and EU, in which the bloc threatened to disrupt vaccine supplies to the UK, broke out earlier this week.
The EU was forced to back down over incendiary plans to control exports to Northern Ireland, a move that Truss said would have been “a mistake”.
She told the BBC's Andrew Marr Show: “This is a global problem that needs global solutions and what we want to do is help other countries, including the developing world, get the vaccines they need to make sure the whole world is vaccinated.”
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Host Andrew Marr asked whether the EU vaccine supply shortage and its attempt to control exports of the jab could descend into a trade war.
Truss said: “I'm very pleased that the EU have said that it was a mistake to mention invoking Article 16 and potentially putting a border in Ireland.
“I'm also very pleased that we have had reassurance about our contracted supply.
“What I want to do now is work with fellow trade ministers to keep these supplies open and to move away from the idea of vaccine nationalism and protectionism, which we know simply harms our global health efforts and harms our global economy.”
Some 7.7 million people in the UK have received their first dose of a vaccine since December, with the NHS more than halfway towards its target of vaccinating 15 million in the four most vulnerable groups by the middle of February.
The EU is under pressure after criticism that the pace of vaccinations in several member states has been too slow.
As of Tuesday this week, 1.1 million vaccine injections had been given in France and just 2.3 million of Germany’s 83 million people have received a dose.
According to Our World in Data, the UK is currently third on the list of countries that has vaccinated the highest proportion of its population.
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