Hundreds of scientists and experts urge government to address global vaccine inequality

‘The pandemic won’t be over until we address the risk of new variants at the root - in populations that have not had access to vaccines’

More than 300 scientists and public health experts have called on the government to prioritise and better support efforts to vaccinate the world’s population, warning that the failure to do risks the emergence of a new coronavirus variant that could prolong the pandemic.

In a letter to the prime minister, the experts warned that allowing large numbers of people in low and middle-income countries to go unvaccinated is “a reckless approach to public health”.

Vaccines will not be effective at stopping new variants of concern from arising “unless we share this technology with the world and increase global vaccination coverage”, they say.

The letter has been signed by 13 members of the government’s Sage committee and sub-committees, a fellow at the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) and an adviser to the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI).

They join a former chief executive of the NHS, Lord Nigel Crisp; a Nobel Prize winner, Sir Richard Roberts; and several advisers to the World Health Organisation (WHO).

The letter urges the prime minister to put public health before the commercial interests of the pharmaceutical industry and support international efforts to suspend intellectual property rules that stop lower-income nations from manufacturing Covid-19 vaccines, tests, and treatments.

The UK, alongside the EU and Switzerland, is blocking the measure at the World Trade Organization (WTO), which was first proposed by India and South Africa in October 2020 and has support from more than 130 countries.

Scientists are also calling for the government to “use all means at its disposal” to encourage pharmaceutical companies to share vaccine recipes.

They want companies like Pfizer, Moderna and AstraZeneca to work with the WHO to transfer the technology needed to manufacture vaccines to companies in low and middle-income countries.

Experts have identified 100 manufacturers in Africa, Asia, and Latin America that are capable of manufacturing mRNA vaccines, if intellectual property rules are suspended and pharmaceutical companies share the blueprints needed.

More than 3 billion people across the world have yet to receive their first dose of Covid-19 vaccine and more boosters have been delivered in rich countries than the total number of all doses administered so far in poorer nations.

Lord Nigel Crisp, former chief executive of NHS England, said: “Throughout this pandemic, the government has pledged that it will follow the science. The scientific evidence has been clear since the start of the pandemic that the best way to keep ourselves and our NHS safe from new variants is to vaccinate the world.

“However laudable donations of vaccines might be, they will never be enough to end the pandemic. There is untapped manufacturing capacity in the very nations that need vaccines and treatments most. For the sake of people’s lives in those countries and our own, we must use it.”

Laura Merson, associate director of the Infectious Diseases Data Observatory at the University of Oxford, said: “The easing of plan B restrictions may give the impression that the pandemic is coming to an end. But this won’t be over until we address the risk of new variants at the root - in populations that have not had access to vaccines.”

The letter was co-ordinated by scientists working with the campaign group Global Justice Now and is addressed to prime minister Boris Johnson, health secretary Sajid Javid, foreign secretary Liz Truss, trade secretary Anne-Marie Trevelyan, and business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng.

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