Christmas 2022 at risk from Covid unless UK stops hoarding jabs, Gordon Brown warns

Ex-PM hits out at Boris Johnson for false claim that low take-up of jabs – rather than a shortage – is the problem in countries with Omicron variant

Rob Merrick
Deputy Political Editor
Sunday 28 November 2021 18:38
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Boris Johnson 'confident' this Christmas will be 'considerably better than last'

Next year’s Christmas is at risk from Covid restrictions unless the UK and other rich nations stop hoarding vaccines desperately needed in Africa, Gordon Brown is warning.

The former prime minister has hit out at Boris Johnson for a false claim that low take-up of jabs – rather than a shortage – is to blame for a lack of protection in countries with the new Omicron variant.

In an article for The Independent, Mr Brown calls on Chris Whitty and Patrick Vallance, the chief medical and scientific officers, to “sit Johnson down” and make him understand “basic medical facts”.

They are that South Africa and Botswana have administered a “far higher” proportion of their does than Western nations – but that effort is crippled by “broken promises” by rich countries to share more jabs.

The UK was already lagging behind the EU and US by pledging only 100 million doses, but has released only 11 per cent of that total in the 5 months since, he says.

Mr Brown writes that such delays are “leaving all of us at risk when – through no fault of their own – a number of countries have become spaces for outbreaks of new variants of the virus”.

And he urges Professor Whitty and Sir Patrick to “make clear that in all our interests he changes course in the way he is treating Africa”.

A failure to do so “will not just put Christmas 2021 at risk but may leave us facing similar problems of a half-vaccinated world next year – and even next Christmas,” the former Labour leader warns.

The prime minister provoked astonishment, at the Saturday night press conference where he unveiled the return of some Covid restrictions, with his claims about vaccine-sharing.

He rejected criticism that the spread of Omicron in southern Africa showed the folly of hoarding jabs – insisting the problem has “not been supply, but hesitancy and lack of take-up” and arguing the UK has been “leading” the world.

In the article, Mr Brown, now the World Health Organisation ambassador for global health financing, quotes a warning from the Africa Union’s Vaccine Delivery Alliance co-chair.

Ayoade Alaki said, of the arrival of Omicron: “What is going on right now is inevitable, it’s a result of the world’s failure to vaccinate in an equitable, urgent and speedy manner.

“It is as a result of vaccine hoarding by high-income countries of the world, and quite frankly it is unacceptable.”

Mr Brown writes: “Not for the first time, Johnson has shown a casual disregard for the facts. But this time his erroneous claims – and the result – a longer-term failure to speed up the delivery of unused Covid-19 vaccines to Africa, is putting lives at risk not only in Africa but round the world.

“Chris Whitty and Sir Patrick Vallance, our well-respected chief medical and scientific advisers, should sit Boris Johnson down and acquaint him with some basic medical facts.”

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