The UK government’s announcement today acknowledges the global vaccine access gap but is an inadequate sticking plaster for the levels of inequity that we are seeing.
Donating surplus vaccines to poorer countries after the UK has vaccinated every adult in the country is too little, too late.
High risk and vulnerable people around the world, including health care workers, should be the urgent priority for vaccination. Health care workers in many of the countries where MSF works have not yet begun to be vaccinated.
Sharing vaccines should be coordinated globally in line with the WHO allocation framework and based on needs, including which vaccines are most effective against the virus variants dominant in regions receiving doses.
It is also short-sighted for the UK to leave other countries without vaccines for months or years on end. This creates conditions in which new variants of COVID-19 could develop and easily spread around the world, including to the UK.
More broadly, the UK government should be focusing on maximising available supplies for all, so we don’t face a choice between COVID-19 medical tools being available in the UK or being available elsewhere.
This involves pharma companies transferring technology and knowhow to other manufacturers around the world so they can start producing these tools, and ensuring this scale up can happen without legal or intellectual property barriers.
But instead, the UK government is blocking a proposal put forward at the World Trade Organization by South Africa and India and backed by 100 other countries, to waive intellectual property on COVID-19 medical tools for the duration of the pandemic.
Our message to Boris Johnson is this. To help end this global pandemic faster, share excess vaccines now not later. And if you are serious about increasing global access to COVID-19 medical tools, stop blocking the intellectual property waiver at the WTO.