Boris Johnson has a “moral duty” to immediately start matching each vaccine administered at home with a donated dose to poorer countries across the world, a cross-party group of MPs and peers has said.
Several Tory backbenchers joined the call, which puts further pressure on the prime minister to boost supplies given to developing nations facing a “desperate shortage” of jabs.
In a letter to Downing Street seen by the Guardian, the group says this will help to save lives at home, adding that the spread across the UK of the variant first found in India had proven that all countries need equitable access to injections.
“The longer we wait to act, the more likely it is that dangerous variants could emerge that can evade the protections offered by current vaccines,” says the group, which includes the Conservative backbenchers Sir Peter Bottomley – the longest-serving MP – and the former hospital doctor Dan Poulter.
Ministers have rightly committed to funding Covax, the international partnership supplying vaccines to developing countries, the group says. However, the group suggests that, given the UK is a net importer of jabs, donations should be stepped up to meet the “urgent demand” faced by many low-income countries, and calls on Johnson to “show leadership on this critical issue”.
The letter also calls for domestic vaccine production to be accelerated so that the UK can become a net exporter of vaccines. It urges the government to support an intellectual property waiver at the World Trade Organization that would ramp up vaccine manufacturing abroad.
With the G7 due to be hosted in Cornwall next week, the 116 parliamentarians from seven different parties – as well as crossbench peers and a bishop – said Johnson should “lead the way in promoting more equitable global access to Covid-19 vaccines”.
Poulter, the vice-chair of the all-party parliamentary group (APPG) on coronavirus, said ministers should “use the same resolve” that helped to boost the UK’s vaccine rollout to “help vaccinate the world”.
He added: “This is no time for complacency. The public will not be truly safe as long as the pandemic continues to surge overseas. Until we match the success of the UK vaccination program across the world, we will continue to be at the mercy of new Covid variants here at home.”
Layla Moran, the chair of the same group, also urged the government not to “turn its back on the humanitarian disaster unfolding around the globe”.
Meanwhile on Tuesday, the heads of the World Health Organization, International Monetary Fund, World Bank Group and World Trade Organization made a similar plea in newspapers around the world – including the Telegraph, Der Spiegel, la Repubblica, Le Monde and The Washington Post – urging rich countries to give more vaccines to poorer nations or risk new variants emerging and further lockdowns.
They call for $50bn (£35bn) in new spending commitments, much of which would be grants to help developing nations with vaccination schemes, and suggest the target of vaccinating 30% of the world’s population by the end of 2021 should rise to 40%, and 60% by the first half of 2022.
The pleas come after Prof Andrew Pollard, the director of the Oxford vaccine group, warned in evidence to the APPG’s inquiry that “many millions could die between now and September” unless more vaccine doses were provided to lower and middle-income countries through Covax.
He also said it would be “morally wrong” to vaccinate younger people and children in richer nations ahead of high-risk populations in lower and middle-income ones.
Dr Gavin Yamey, of Duke University in the US, has also said that richer nations have an estimated 200m spare doses of the vaccine that could be donated straight away, with a further 1.5bn doses procured by wealthier countries for future use.
A government spokesperson said: “The UK is proud to be playing a leading role in the global effort to create and distribute coronavirus vaccines.
“We are one of the largest donors to Covax, providing £548m to fund over a billion vaccines to lower-middle income countries this year. This funding has so far helped to provide vaccines to more than 120 countries and territories, including 38 across Africa.
“The UK will share the majority of any future surplus vaccines from our supply with the Covax pool when these are available.”
Johnson has previously said he asked Sir Patrick Vallance, the UK’s chief scientific adviser, to work with international organisations, industry and scientific experts, to advise the G7 on speeding up the process for developing vaccines, treatments and tests for common pathogens.