Doctors urge Boris Johnson to do better on global Covid-19 vaccine drive

Exclusive: Low income countries ‘stuck’ as UK condemns them to ongoing pandemic, doctors argue

Living with long Covid: The UK's next health crisis

More than 130 leading NHS clinicians and several medical bodies have called on the government to step up funding for the global Covid vaccine drive, saying Britain’s failure to do so is condemning poorer nations to an “ongoing pandemic”.

In a letter to Boris Johnson, shared with The Independent, they say government must “play a bigger role in achieving the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) 70 per cent global vaccination target by July 2022”.

Key signatories include the presidents of the Royal College of Surgeons and the Royal College of GPs.

They argued that Britain has failed to donate its “fair share” to the “Access to Covid Tools Accelerator”, a collaborative effort by organisations including the WHO to speed up access to tests, treatments, and vaccines.

The programme has called for richer countries to donate funds for Covid assistance in poorer countries, calculating that $16bn (£12bn) is needed. So far only $1.1bn has been received.

The letter urged the UK government to donate £720m.

Dr David Attwood, a GP and one of the signatories, said low-income countries are “stuck” because the UK has “condemned them to the misery of an ongoing pandemic”.

He added: “This amounts to discrimination against people who live in poorer countries, it goes against our core NHS beliefs, and it cannot be allowed to continue.”

The letter said: “Our domestic Covid response has accounted for £360bn, representing 18 per cent of our GDP. The £720m being requested by the international community represents just 0.036 per cent of our GDP.”

The healthcare professionals also urged the government to keep donations separate from its overseas aid budget.

Last week The Independent reported the UK’s plans to count vaccine donations towards its aid budget, effectively stripping it of £140m.

Just 10 per cent of people in low-income countries have been vaccinated, according to a tracker built by the WHO.

The letter, part of campaign called #vaccinatetheworld, said: “The Omicron variant proved that low vaccination rates in other countries allows the virus to mutate, giving rise to new strains. People [in the UK] will never be safe until everyone is safe.”

The medics also argued that allowing the global pandemic to carry on would cost the world economy £5.3 trillion and would “stall post-pandemic recovery plans” in the UK.

The letter added: “Failing to meet the WHO 70 per cent global vaccination target could result in another 5 million deaths worldwide.

“This view is echoed by UK citizens; 72 per cent believe that ending the Covid-19 pandemic globally in 2022 should be the top priority for the UK government.

“We strongly urge our government to donate £720m, which should be in addition to the overseas aid budget. This small investment will save millions of lives, boost the economy, and future-proof our nation from further strains. Let’s honour our moral obligations and help end the global pandemic.”

The letter was signed by 13 different royal colleges and organisations which represent healthcare professionals.

Their warning comes as Covid cases continue to rise in the UK and elsewhere, with the WHO reporting an 8 per cent weekly increase last week.

Dr David Attwood, who led on coordinating the letter, told The Independent: “When the vaccination programme in care homes began, we were told it would save one life for every 20 patients vaccinated. However, those vials contained so much more than a vaccine. It was our way out of the misery of this pandemic, and the liquid embodiment of our core NHS belief: that high-quality healthcare is a basic human right, and should be available for all, for free, for ever.”

“Sadly these values do not extend to low-income countries. Our government have not responded to the international community’s plea for support with a costed plan to achieve the World Health Organisation’s 70 per cent global vaccination target by July 2022. Simultaneously they have blocked low-income countries from having the rights to the recipes to make their own vaccines, tests and treatments. They are stuck because our country has condemned them to the misery of an ongoing pandemic.

“This amounts to discrimination against people who live in poorer countries, it goes against our core NHS beliefs, and it cannot be allowed to continue. We urge the UK government to step up and pay its fair share to fund fair access to all for COVID-19 vaccines, tests and treatments.”

Professor Dame Helen Stokes-Lampard, chair of the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges, said: “While we are all rightly focused on events in Ukraine, we must remember that the pandemic has not gone away.

“In fact new variants of Covid-19 are emerging all the time and case numbers are still extremely high globally. The only way we can truly protect ourselves is if the maximum number of people around the world are properly vaccinated. The UK has shown admirable leadership on this front in many ways but there is still far more we can do to ensure those in poorer or developing nations get access to vaccines and the support to deliver them in the way we have been fortunate to have here.”

A spokesperson for the Foreign, Common Wealth and Development Office said: “The UK has taken a leading role to ensure developing countries can access vaccines, through our significant financial support to the COVAX scheme and commitment to donate surplus vaccines. We are providing up to £813 million to the Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator and its COVAX facilities, making us among its largest donors.

“As one of the largest international donors of aid, the UK spent more than £10 billion on Official Development Assistance last year to fight poverty, tackle climate change and improve global health.”

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