British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is pledging to donate most of the UK’s surplus vaccine supply to poorer countries in a speech to a virtual G7 meeting on Friday.
He urged rich countries to back a 100-day target for the developing new vaccines for future emerging diseases.
Johnson, whose country holds the G-7 presidency this year, opened a virtual summit with the leaders of the United States, France, Germany, Italy, Canada and Japan by saying, “This is a global pandemic, and it’s no use one country being far ahead of another.”
“We’ve got to move together,” Johnson said, speaking from the prime minister’s office at London’s 10 Downing Street to the other world leaders. “So, one of the things that I know that colleagues will be wanting to do is to ensure that we distribute vaccines at cost around the world.”
Wealthy nations have snapped up hundreds of millions of doses of COVID-19 vaccines, while some countries in the developing world have little or none.
The British government said Johnson, whose country has reported almost 120,000 virus-related deaths, will promise to give “the majority of any future surplus vaccines” to the U.N.-backed COVAX effort to vaccinate the world’s most vulnerable people, and will encourage other G-7 countries to do the same.
But Foreign Office Minister James Cleverly said it was “difficult to say with any kind of certainty” when or how much Britain could donate.
Decisions on when and how much of the surplus will be distributed will be made later this year, with ministers taking into account the supply chain and whether booster shots are needed in the autumn.
French President Emmanuel Macron gave a firmer target, saying Europe and the U.S. should allocate up to 5% of their current COVID-19 vaccine supplies to the poorest countries “very fast, so that people on the ground see it happening.”
In an interview with the Financial Times, Macron noted that Russia and China have been quick to offer doses of their own products to some African nations.
As the African continent awaits delivery of doses through COVAX, an African Union-created vaccines task force said Friday that it would be getting 300 million doses of Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine in May. The AU previously secured 270 million doses from AstraZeneca, Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson for the continent of 1.3 billion people.
Macron said that “hundreds of millions of vaccines are being given in rich countries” while the vaccination effort in poor countries has barely started.
“It’s an unprecedented acceleration of global inequality and it’s politically unsustainable too because it’s paving the way for a war of influence over vaccines,” he said. “You can see the Chinese strategy, and the Russian strategy too.”
The French president’s office said France was ready to hand over 5% of its doses but would not give exact numbers or a date.
Development and aid groups said rich Western countries needed to do more, and soon.
“The virus won’t wait on us to be ready before it mutates, so we need to get these vaccines around the world as quickly as possible,” said Romilly Greenhill, UK director of anti-poverty group the One Campaign.