Boris Johnson today defended his ‘huge’ plan to donate 100million surplus vaccines to poorer countries as campaigners demand he goes further.
The PM rejected criticism of the gifting insisting the UK is more than doing its part to help protect people around the world from coronavirus.
Under the grand gesture, the UK will start donating vaccines within weeks, providing five million doses to countries in need by the end of September.
Around 25million more jabs will be distributed by the end of the year and the remainder will follow in 2022. The cost cannot be precisely calculated as it will depend what vaccines are gifted – but it could top £1billion.
Mr Johnson is urging other leaders at the G7 summit in Cornwall to follow his example. Joe Biden has already promised to donate half a billion Pfizer vaccines for 92 low and lower-middle income countries and the African Union.
But vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi confirmed this morning that the British public are still being prioritised.
Eighty per cent of the 100million doses will go to the Covax initiative, which is distributing vaccines to poorer nations. The remainder will be shared bilaterally with countries in need.
The donation will count as extra spending on top of the £10billion committed to the new foreign aid target of 0.5 per cent of gross domestic product.
The PM (pictured at the Falmouth Maratime Museum last night) has rejected criticism of the vaccine gifting plan insisting the UK is more than doing its part to help protect people around the world from coronavirus
But he resisted calls from campaigners to take further action, including waiving patents on vaccines, insisting that the deal to supply Oxford/AstraZeneca jabs at cost price and the UK’s funding for the Covax initiative to provide doses around the world showed Britain was doing its share.
The Prime Minister told the BBC: ‘I think that the people of this country should be very proud that of the 1.5billion doses that are being distributed around the world to the poorest and neediest in the world under the Covax programme, one in three come from the Oxford/AstraZeneca deal that the UK did, allowing those vaccines to be distributed at cost.
‘And that’s before we’ve talked about the £548 million that we’ve contributed to Covax, £1.6billion to Gavi (the vaccine alliance).
‘And, yes, we’re putting in five million doses by September, but we’ll do … 100 million before 12 months is out. That’s a huge number of extra doses’
The G7 as a whole was offering a ‘colossal sum of vaccines’, he said.
In a round of interviews this morning, Mr Zahawi said no-one in the UK will have to wait longer as a result of the gifts.
‘Our priority is to make sure that the British public are protected, so our deployment programme will not be impacted at all by our donation of 100 million doses,’ he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
‘We have got over 500million doses on order.’
Around a fifth of the doses promised by Mr Johnson will be delivered through bilateral arrangements with countries in need while the rest will go through the Covax initiative which is distributing vaccines to poorer nations.
By sharing vaccines in the coming weeks, the UK will meet an immediate demand from countries worst affected by the pandemic, No 10 said. However, this is not expected to delay completion of the domestic rollout – with all adults in the UK likely to be offered a first vaccine dose by the end of July.
Officials hope that vaccinating people around the world will save lives, reduce the spread of the virus and restrict the emergence of new variants which could potentially be more dangerous than existing coronavirus strains.
And it comes after the UK went back on a commitment to spend 0.7 per cent of national income on overseas aid.
The new target, which has been cut to 0.5 per cent, was brought about as the Government struggles to fill the black hole in the nation’s finances. But the donation of vaccines will count as extra aid spending on top of the £10billion already promised under the reduced target.
Baroness Liz Sugg, who quit as a Foreign Office minister in protest at the cuts, said the vaccine pledge was a ‘very welcome first step’.
But she added: ‘Low-income countries will need many more vaccines this year in order to help end the pandemic and prevent variants developing that may threaten progress against the pandemic here in the UK.’
She continued: ‘It’s crucial that the Government cover the actual cost of these vaccines and don’t just transfer their surplus orders to low-income countries.’
In total, global leaders are expected to pledge at least one billion vaccine doses to the world and expand manufacturing to reach the goal. Joe Biden has already promised to donate half a billion Pfizer vaccines.
Mr Johnson is also expected to ask world leaders to encourage pharmaceutical giants to adopt the Oxford/AstraZeneca model of providing jabs at cost price.
Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson have already pledged to share 1.3billion doses with low and middle-income countries on a non-profit basis.
Joe Biden has already promised to donate half a billion Pfizer vaccines for 92 low and lower-middle income countries and the African Union
Vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi confirmed this morning that the British public are still being prioritised.
The leaders – including US President Joe Biden – will spend the day discussing issues including the pandemic before a lavish reception at the Eden Project attended by the Queen.
The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge will also take part in their first G7 events, another milestone in their progression as senior royals.
William and Kate will join the Queen, the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall at the G7 leaders reception on Friday evening.
The summit, being held in Carbis Bay, begins with leaders of wealthy nations under pressure to do more to share the burden of protecting the world from the virus.
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