Call for UK to share spare doses as Unicef launches global vaccine drive

Wellcome Trust director speaks out as Brits are urged to back huge fundraising campaign to deliver jabs to 190 other countries

It is time Britain began sharing its stores of Covid vaccine doses with less developed nations, the director of the Wellcome Trust, Jeremy Farrar, has warned.

The medical researcher spoke out yesterday after Boris Johnson announced that more than half the UK’s adult population had received their first jab, a development the prime minister called a fantastic achievement. “Let’s keep going,” he added.

Farrar also praised the accomplishment – carried out in under three months. “But we now need to start thinking beyond our borders,” he said.

“The UK has access to 100m surplus vaccine doses. Almost enough to vaccinate every citizen twice. These doses won’t be of use in the UK. It’s time we began sharing doses with those most in need globally.

“This is more than a question of ethics – it is a scientific and economic imperative,” added Farrar. “If left to spread unchecked in large parts of the world, the virus risks mutating to an extent where our vaccines and treatments no longer work – leaving us all exposed. Science has given us the exit strategy, but it will only work if its benefits can reach the maximum number of people around the world.”

Farrar’s intervention came as Unicef announced it is bringing together a coalition of faith groups, fundraisers, celebrities and businesses to deliver vaccines to 190 countries under the banner of VaccinAid.

The UK committee for Unicef hopes to “harness the optimism” created by the vaccination drive to capture the spirit of lockdown fundraisers such as Captain Sir Tom Moore.

People receiving their vaccinations around the UK will be given the opportunity to donate or raise funds, and the campaign is asking ordinary people, celebrities and companies to come up with ways to raise money through

The campaign is backed by the archbishop of Canterbury, the chief rabbi and leading imams as well as the NHS under the slogan “Give the World a Shot”.

VaccinAid was conceived by Crowdfunder, the fundraising website which worked with Marcus Rashford on the Manchester United footballer’s campaign to end child- food poverty. Rob Love, Crowdfunder’s founder, said they had been inspired by the large number of people who had received the vaccine who wanted to raise money for the global vaccination programme.

“We want as many people to get involved as possible,” Love said. “We already know people want to contribute, they’re coming out of vaccine centres and asking how they can contribute. What we’ve seen in the last 12 months, with Captain Tom and Marcus Rashford, is the whole world of charity-giving and fundraising has been turned completely on its head. People aren’t being told what to do, they’re deciding what they want to do themselves, so we’re trying to bring that together.”

VaccinAid is part of the global vaccine rollout under Covax, an alliance of world health bodies which is buying vaccines for low- and middle-income countries which do not have the resources to negotiate deals with the vaccine manufacturers directly.

The plan is for 2bn vaccines to be delivered this year. The first vaccines arrived in Ghana and the Ivory Coast last month, with about 8m doses delivered so far. The G7 leaders pledged a total of £5.3bn last month, with the British government giving £548m.

Unicef’s chief of immunisation, Dr Robin Nandy, said it was vital to raise further money to help distribute the vaccine, particularly in countries with poor infrastructure.

“In most low-income countries, there is no adult immunisation programme to build upon,” he said. “So unless we raise resources for Covid-19 vaccine delivery, countries are going to use resources for childhood vaccination programmes.

“We don’t want that because then childhood vaccination will suffer, and we’re going to have measles and polio outbreaks parallel to what we’re experiencing with Covid-19.”

The actor and Unicef UK ambassador David Harewood: ‘We can’t do it without the support of the public to fund this historic vaccine drive.’
The actor and Unicef UK ambassador David Harewood: ‘We can’t do it without the support of the public to fund this historic vaccine drive.’ Photograph: Lester Cohen/Getty Images

The UK’s vaccination roll-out has relied heavily on the NHS’s supply networks, which don’t exist in many parts of the world, Nandy said. “So you almost have to start from scratch. Simple things can become stumbling blocks, like transporting the vaccine – some district groups might have no money to pay for fuel, and you have to remember that Covid vaccines have a relatively short shelf life.”

The emergence of Covid variants means people in Britain have a selfish interest in seeing the rest of the world vaccinated, as well as an altruistic one.

David Harewood, the Homeland actor and an ambassador for Unicef UK, said he had seen first-hand the “amazing lengths” Unicef staff had gone to in distributing vaccines.

“In Sierra Leone I saw them arriving in cold boxes on boats, in the remotest part of the country, to ensure they reach the arms of even the hardest-to-reach communities,” he said.

“The sheer logistical operation of it all is staggering yet well established – but we can’t do it without the support of the public to fund this historic vaccine drive. I really do believe that no one is safe until we are all safe, and one thing I’ve learnt from the past year living through this pandemic is that kindness and fairness has the power to do incredible things.”

Justin Welby, archbishop of Canterbury, who initially brought together the faith organisations working on this project, said he was “delighted” that churches and other faith groups were backing the campaign. Gemma Chan, the Marvel actor and another Unicef UK ambassador, said she was “incredibly proud” to support it.


Robin McKie & James Tapper

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Halfway there … the key numbers that tell the story of the UK’s vaccine drive
The government has hit both its self-imposed targets so far. How will it go the rest of the way?

James Tapper

25, Apr, 2021 @8:45 AM

Article image
Older age groups in UK ‘will die’ if Covid vaccine priority goes to younger key workers
Government advisers say it would be ‘politically, socially and ethically unacceptable’ not to inoculate older people first

Michael Savage, Policy Editor

30, Jan, 2021 @6:09 PM

Article image
Share vaccines or climate deal will fail, rich countries are told
Call for ‘solidarity’ in Covid fight as Boris Johnson calls on world leaders to help vaccinate global population by end of 2022

Fiona Harvey, Toby Helm and Ashley Kirk

05, Jun, 2021 @9:30 PM

Article image
Global Covid vaccine rollout threatened by shortage of vital components
Pharmaceutical firms warn of delays to items such as the large bags in which vaccine cells are grown

James Tapper

10, Apr, 2021 @2:44 PM

Article image
Scientists urge caution over proposals to impose vaccine passports in UK
Experts’ warning as Covid crackdowns across Europe result in widespread protests

Robin McKie

21, Nov, 2021 @8:30 AM

Article image
Fears for Covid vaccine drive if second doses clash with boosters
Fears grow that low take-up now will cause autumn clash with booster campaign

Robin McKie & James Tapper

25, Jul, 2021 @7:15 AM

Article image
Cambridge hospital halts jabs with doses to spare
Addenbrooke’s would not ‘risk wasting Pfizer vaccine’ by defrosting it because insufficient workers had signed up for jab

James Tapper

06, Feb, 2021 @9:45 PM

Article image
EU’s vaccine blunder reopens Brexit battle over Irish border
Tory MPs use short-lived announcement of export ban to call for overhaul of trade deal, as EU chief is attacked over U-turn

Michael Savage and Daniel Boffey

30, Jan, 2021 @9:00 PM

Article image
Vaccine experts defend UK decision to delay second Pfizer Covid jab
Medics told they risk undermining public confidence by querying policy of three-month gap between doses

Michael Savage, Robin McKie and James Tapper

23, Jan, 2021 @10:30 PM

Article image
Covid-19: UK failed to heed the virus alerts, says vaccine creator
Poll support grows for government action as Johnson to announce that Britain is to hit 15 million inoculation target

Robin McKie & Toby Helm

14, Feb, 2021 @8:21 AM