UK will share surplus vaccines with developing world, Johnson to tell G7 leaders

Kim SenguptaThu, 18 February 2021, 10:32 pm

<p> Britain’s sharing of vaccines will take place through the Covax scheme</p> (AFP/Getty)
Britain’s sharing of vaccines will take place through the Covax scheme(AFP/Getty)

Boris Johnson will announce that surplus stock of Britain’s coronavirus vaccine will be shared with the developing world when he hosts a summit of international leaders of the G7 states in London.

The prime minister will also unveil a programme to produce vaccines for new diseases within 100 days at the meeting, which will seek to establish a global safety network to counter future pandemics.

Britain’s sharing of vaccines will take place through the Covax scheme. Mr Johnson has asked Sir Patrick Vallance, the UK’s chief scientific officer, to advise the G7 on speeding up vaccine development process with the aim of cutting the manufacturing time by two-thirds.

Vallance will work on the project with the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), as well as industry and scientific experts.

Johnson said, “Perhaps more than ever, the hopes of the world rest on the shoulders of scientists and over the last year, like countless times before, they have risen to the challenge.

“The development of viable coronavirus vaccines offers the tantalising prospect of a return to normality, but we must not rest on our laurels. As leaders of the G7 we must say today: never again. By harnessing our collective ingenuity, we can ensure we have the vaccines, treatments and tests to be battle-ready for future health threats, as we beat Covid-19 and build back better together.”

Emmanuel Macron has also announced vaccine-sharing by France, with five per cent of its stock being sent to poorer countries, especially in Africa. There have been accusations that while G7 states have ordered more than 1.5 billion vaccines more than their population requires, Russia and China are winning influence through ‘vaccine diplomacy’ by supplying developing countries.

Mr Macron told the Financial Times: “We are allowing the idea to take hold that hundreds of millions of vaccines are being given in rich countries and we are not starting in poor countries. It’s an unprecedented acceleration of global inequality and it’s politically unsustainable too because it is paving the way for a war of influence over vaccines. You can see the Chinese strategy and the Russian strategy too.”

The virtual summit, which will be followed by an in person one in June in Cornwall, will also focus on climate change with work on that being carried into the COP26 conference, also being hosted in this country, in the autumn.

But there will be scrutiny at the meeting on how Britain is positioning itself in the post-Brexit scene, amid concern from some European Union states that the G7 is being used to establish an anti-China alliance.

Australia, India and South Korea, all countries which have clashed with Beijing, have been invited to this year’s meeting, a prelude, it has been claimed, for turning it into a G10, or D10 group of democratic states.

Such an alliance to counter Chinese hegemony has the backing of the US. Joe Biden, who is attending his first multilateral forum since winning the US presidential election, has proposed a summit of democratic states to take place in his first year in office.

The UK also has strong interest in trading ties after leaving the European Union with the three countries invited. India is projected to become the world’s third largest economy by 2030 and South Korea and Australia, as well as being attractive markets in their own right, are members of the huge trading alliance, the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) which the UK has applied to join.

The perception of an anti-China format has, however, caused unease among some countries attending the summit such as Italy, which has growing economic ties with Beijing, as well as France. The European Union has recently agreed to an investment agreement with China to the displeasure of the US.

The British government denies that there is an anti-China tenor to this year’s meeting. Officials point out that host countries always had the discretion who to invite as guests, and there were no fewer than 15 guest states the last time the summit was held in France.

However, Malcolm Chalmers, the deputy director general of the think tank Royal United Services Institute, stated, “The last five G7 summits all included guest attendance by the leaders of African countries, in most cases by several such leaders. By only issuing such invitations to Australia, India and South Korea, the UK is at risk of being seen to be sending a message that its Indo-Pacific tilt is at the expense of Europe’s neighbourhood, and of Africa in particular.”