Gordon Brown: Rich countries 'hoarding' Covid vaccines risks Christmas 2022

29 November 2021, 10:01 | Updated: 29 November 2021, 10:22

By Daisy Stephens

Gordon Brown has told LBC that rich countries stockpiling coronavirus vaccines increases the chances of more variants emerging and throws Christmas 2022 into doubt.

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The former Prime Minister, who is also the World Health Organisation ambassador for global health financing, told LBC's Nick Ferrari at Breakfast that vaccines must be fairly distributed around the world in order to have the best chance of stopping new strains of the disease from emerging.

"If we can't crack this problem that we have a world that is half vaccinated and not fully vaccinated then the disease will ultimately spread and there will be more new variants and it will come back to bite us, even in countries where we've had three vaccinations or even more," said Mr Brown.

"We cannot be safe until everybody's safe, and I'm afraid that everybody will live in fear of this disease until nobody lives in fear of this disease in any part of the world."

Read more: Covid-19: Six cases of Omicron variant found in Scotland

Read more: 'None of us are safe': Former PM accuses UK of 'hoarding' Covid vaccines

Mr Brown previously accused the UK of hoarding coronavirus vaccines, issuing a warning that new variants would develop as a result - which they now have, with the emergence of the Omicron strain.

He told Nick there was "no doubt" rich countries such as the UK were stockpiling more vaccine than they needed, pointing out that globally 12 million vaccines will have been made by the end of the year - enough to vaccinate every adult twice.

"The problem is that most of these vaccines have gone to the richest countries, so nearly 90 per cent have gone to the G20 countries and only 10 per cent to the other 170 countries," he said.

"As long as we continue to hoard it, there will be vaccines wasted in the west that could have saved lives in the rest of the world."

Mr Brown said the UK had so far been "too complacent" about the threat of new variants from other countries.

"We've got into a position where three per cent of low-income countries have been vaccinated, but 70 per cent or so in Britain," he said.

"While we are right to tell people to vaccinated and we are right to tell people to get tested if there's any problem... we've really got to apply the same lessons to the rest of the world because if the disease spreads there... it comes back to haunt us here."

He added: "Vaccination is the answer."

Read more: Omicron: Symptoms, cases, and what we know so far

Read more: Booster jabs for every adult to fight Omicron and save Christmas

When Nick raised the fact that experts do not yet know how effective current vaccines are against the Omicron variant, the former Prime Minister said they would offer at least some degree of protection.

"You are far better protected, whatever the variant, by getting yourself vaccinated with the present vaccine that's available," he said.

"You will be better able to withstand this new variant if you're vaccinated".

He also hit out at Boris Johnson, calling his claim that the UK was leading vaccine distribution to poorer countries "simply not true", with the UK having provided just 11 per cent of its promised 100 million doses.

He also said it was wrong to suggest the problem in Africa was low take-up, saying: "There's anti-vaccine protests in every country and a lot of people have been taken in by them, but the real problem in Africa and the low income countries is the lack of supply."

Read more: Javid set to make statement as Omicron spreads and booster announcement expected

Watch: Reaction to Omicron 'totally over the top', says South Africa top doc

Nick also asked Mr Brown whether the measures announced over the weekend - including a reintroduction of masks on public transport and in shops, and tighter rules on self-isolation - were proportionate.

Mr Brown said he largely supported them, but added the mask mandate "probably will" have to go further than just public transport and shops.

He also added that he hoped the JCVI recommended an expansion of the booster programme - something they are expected to do as early as Monday.