UK must vaccinate poorer countries to keep effectiveness of Covid jabs, experts warn

28 January 2022, 00:21 | Updated: 28 January 2022, 02:00

Hundreds of medical experts say the UK must ensure poorer countries are vaccinated to help keep up effectiveness of jabs
Hundreds of medical experts say the UK must ensure poorer countries are vaccinated to help keep up effectiveness of jabs. Picture: Alamy

By Emma Soteriou

The UK must ensure poorer countries are vaccinated to help keep up the effectiveness of Covid jabs, hundreds of medical experts have warned.

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Scientists sent a joint letter to the Government highlighting the importance of vaccinating on a worldwide scale.

They said vaccinating most of the world's population was "the best way" to prevent coronavirus mutations, adding that allowing poorer countries to remain unvaccinated was a "reckless approach to public health".

The letter, which has been signed by more than 300 experts, including 13 SAGE members, a UK Health Security Agency fellow and a Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation adviser, also said vaccines will "not be effective" at stopping new variants unless the UK ensures more people in poorer countries are jabbed.

It comes after G7 leaders pledged last year to deliver a billion Covid vaccines in a "big step towards vaccinating the world".

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The letter read: "Allowing huge numbers of people in low- and middle-income countries to remain unvaccinated is a reckless approach to public health that creates conditions where new SARS-CoV-2 variants of concern are more likely to develop.

"Indeed, the Omicron variant was first identified in Botswana and South Africa, on a continent in which fewer than one in ten are fully vaccinated.

"Thanks to remarkable scientific innovations, we have a number of vaccines that remain highly effective against all known Covid-19 variants.

"Yet, unless we share this technology with the world and increase global vaccination coverage, vaccines will not be effective at stopping new variants of concern.

"We must use and expand domestic vaccine manufacturing and distribution capacity within low and middle-income countries."

Mr Johnson was also urged to put public health before the commercial interests of the pharmaceutical industry "to prevent another year of uncertainty and tragedy".

Lord Nigel Crisp, former chief executive of NHS England, said: "Throughout this pandemic, the Government has pledged that it will follow the science.

"The scientific evidence has been clear since the start of the pandemic that the best way to keep ourselves and our NHS safe from new variants is to vaccinate the world.

"However laudable donations of vaccines might be, they will never be enough to end the pandemic.

"There is untapped manufacturing capacity in the very nations that need vaccines and treatments most. For the sake of people's lives in those countries and our own, we must use it."

A Government spokesperson said: "The UK is working to ensure developing countries can access Covid-19 vaccines.

"Our significant early commitment to Covax has already helped to deliver more than one billion doses to developing countries, while we continue to donate our own domestic surplus.

"We recognise and share concerns regarding the level of vaccination in some parts of the world, and we are working on tackling the underlying issues including manufacturing and supply constraints, pressure on health systems, and vaccine confidence."