'We must stop hoarding and vaccinate the world'

Josephine hopes she'll be able to hug her family after her second dose of the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccin

London has just hit the milestone of 11 million vaccinations - Credit: Royal Free

The success of the UK’s vaccine programme has brought hope through this most difficult time. It’s been a triumph of science and manufacturing, rolled out at such speed thanks to our brilliant NHS, local councils and hard-working volunteers. Across London we’ve just hit the milestone of 11 million vaccinations, with boosters now available for older people and those with underlying health issues ahead of a tough winter.  

It’s a picture replicated across rich countries of the world. But as we reach the stage where everyone who wants the vaccine can access it, the gulf between countries like ours and many countries in Asia, Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean is only growing.  

Catherine West, MP for Hornsey and Wood Green

Catherine West wants surplus vaccines sent to countries who need them most - Credit: Chris McAndrew

Wealthier nations scrambled to stockpile vaccines during the early rush for supplies. It was understandable when we didn’t know which vaccines would work, but it’s created an absurd situation where the clock is now ticking on more than 100 million Covid vaccine doses due to expire. Hoarding vaccines in some countries whilst lives are needlessly lost elsewhere is unconscionable and whilst vaccination rates are so low across much of the developing world, we are all at greater risk of mutations emerging. If Covid has taught the world anything, surely it should be that pandemics affect us all and only by working together can we defeat them?  

With a new foreign secretary, Liz Truss, now in post I’ve put questions to her in parliament on what steps she’ll be taking to prevent Covid-19 vaccines being wasted.  

Airfinity’s research, sent by former prime minister Gordon Brown to leaders across the world, reveals that with proper co-ordination 70% of the world’s population could be vaccinated by May 2022 just through the vaccines already on shelves or in production. Instead, if we continue at current rates, low income countries will take 57 years to be in the same place as richer countries.  

There is no time to waste. Global leaders must act now to develop a plan that gets surplus vaccines out to the countries that most need them, and we must get behind US efforts to waive vaccine patents so that countries who are crying out to produce their own vaccines can do so at low cost.  

Effective global collaboration wouldn’t just bring the current Covid-19 pandemic to an end, it would also provide the mechanisms, infrastructure and tools to better tackle future pandemics.  The UK needs to take leadership to make the world safer now and in the future.

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Catherine West is MP for Hornsey and Wood Green.