UK’s Covid vaccine donations alongside move to block waiver ‘shameful’

Campaigner criticises opposition to WTO effort to waive intellectual property rights for vaccines as UK starts delivery of 9m doses overseas

Covax organised vaccines administered July this year at a rehabilitation centre for people with disabilities, Kathmandu, Nepal Covax -organised vaccines administered earlier this month at a rehabilitation centre for people with disabilities in Kathmandu, Nepal. Photograph: Narendra Shrestha/EPACovax -organised vaccines administered earlier this month at a rehabilitation centre for people with disabilities in Kathmandu, Nepal. Photograph: Narendra Shrestha/EPA


The UK has begun exports of coronavirus vaccine doses to poorer countries, announcing that 9m will be delivered this week around the world as its domestic programme slows.

The Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccines were due to begin leaving the UK this week – the first time the UK has donated doses rather than funds to Covax, the initiative to distribute vaccines to poorer countries.

However, vaccine equity campaigners said the move was “shamefully inadequate” with the UK among richer nations blocking efforts to waive intellectual property on Covid-19 vaccines and treatments.

The World Trade Organization’s general council is set to delay a decision on waiving intellectual property on Covid-19 vaccines and treatments, amid opposition from the UK and Germany.

Although the UK has donated £548m to Covax, the initiative has a shortage of doses because of a huge deficit in supply caused by the wave of infections in India, where a key vaccine manufacturer, the Serum Institute, prioritised domestic supplies.

Countries such as Russia and China have been quick to engage in “vaccine diplomacy” by distributing their own vaccines to countries in need, but this will be the first time the UK will directly send doses to specific countries.

Of the 9m doses being donated, 5m will go to Covax to distribute, but a further 4m will go to other countries directly, including 600,000 doses to Indonesia; 300,000 will be sent to Jamaica and 817,000 are to be transported to Kenya.

The UK has pledged to donate 100m vaccine doses in total within the next year, a pledge made by Boris Johnson at the G7 summit in Cornwall. About 30m doses are due to be sent by the end of the year, and, of these, the UK will donate 80m doses to Covax but send 20m to countries directly.

The British foreign secretary, Dominic Raab, previously said the donations would be made “on a strategic basis”.

Raab said: “The UK is sending 9m doses of AstraZeneca vaccine, the first batch of the 100m doses we’ve pledged, to get the most vulnerable parts of the world vaccinated as a matter of urgency. We’re doing this to help the most vulnerable, but also because we know we won’t be safe until everyone is safe.”

Dr Seth Berkley, CEO of Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, which is co-leading Covax alongside the World Health Organization and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, said: “The UK has been a steadfast supporter of Covax since its inception and this announcement comes at an important time. Global vaccine demand is far outstripping supply, leaving millions of the most vulnerable unprotected, while higher vaccine coverage worldwide is one of our best shields against new variants.”

The cost of this donation is being funded by UK Official Development Assistance, and the Foreign Office said it would come over and above the ODA spending target of 0.5% of GNI if needed.

Nick Dearden, the director of Global Justice Now, which campaigns for vaccine waivers, said it was inappropriate to use donations for diplomacy.

He said: “This is a global health crisis, not an opportunity for vain self-promotion. Worse still, this shoddy piece of PR went out on the very day the UK is blocking real solutions at the World Trade Organization that would allow many of these countries to produce their own vaccines in far greater quantities than donations will ever achieve.

“It shouldn’t be up to Dominic Raab to decide if a country is strategically useful enough to deserve some of the UK’s leftover doses. We should be building domestic manufacturing in those countries by waiving vaccine intellectual property and sharing technological know-how.”


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