Harry YorkeSun, 28 March 2021, 8:37 pm
Boris Johnson has discussed sharing covid-19 vaccines with Ireland with Northern Ireland’s First Minister, it has emerged, as she described the proposals as a “runner.”
Arlene Foster said she was “hopeful” that the UK would begin sharing jabs with the Republic once it began to build up a surplus of doses, confirming that she had raised the idea during their recent discussions.
“When I’m next speaking to him I’ll be making that point again,” she told the Irish broadcaster RTE.
“I think it’s important that we continue the conversation and I’ll be listening very carefully to what our medical advisers are saying about the rollout of the vaccine in Northern Ireland, where it is in the Republic of Ireland and what that means for both jurisdictions.”
“I think it’s the right thing that should happen, I think it’s a very practical thing to do and I think it should happen and hopefully it will.”
Sources in Belfast told The Telegraph that Mrs Foster had discussed the proposal at length with Mr Johnson on his recent visit to Enniskillen as part of a day trip to Northern Ireland.
Oliver Dowden, the Culture Secretary, also indicated that the UK could share supplies, although he stressed that the UK was not currently in a position to do so and was focussed on its own domestic programme.
However, the Irish Government issued a statement insisting it was “not aware of any specific plans to share vaccines with Ireland at this stage.”
It follows reports up to 3.7 million British vaccines could be shared with Ireland as part of efforts to protect Northern Ireland from covid-19 imports from the south and enable lockdown restrictions to be lifted faster.
Dominic Raab, the Foreign Secretary, has held talks with Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis and Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove over the move, The Sunday Times said.
The Daily Telegraph also reported in January that ministers were discussing whether Ireland could receive jabs.
However, the suggestion the UK could share vaccines with its closest neighbour and an EU member state is likely to anger Brussels, which is lagging far behind Britain in its vaccination efforts.
It could also heighten tensions amid ongoing negotiations over supplies, with the European Commission threatening to block shipments of the AstraZeneca vaccine to the UK from the Halix plant in the Netherlands.
Today, talks between UK and EU officials are due to resume over sharing jabs produced by the plant.
Government insiders remained tight-lipped about progress, although UK officials are expected to demand the EU take account of the millions of pounds spent by British taxpayers on creating the AstraZeneca vaccine when considering export controls.
Downing Street also played down suggestions that Ireland could receive UK vaccines in the near future, with a Government spokesman stating: “Our first priority is to protect the British public, and the vaccine rollout is continuing at pace.
“We remain on course to offer a first dose to all over 50s in the UK by April 15th and all UK adults by the end of July, as we continue to cautiously reopen society via our roadmap.
“We don’t currently have a surplus of vaccines, but we will consider how these are allocated as they become available.”https://www.youtube.com/embed/PTOJaDbY2j0?enablejsapi=1&modestbranding=1&origin=http://www.telegraph.co.uk&rel=0
Meanwhile, Mr Dowden confirmed to Sky News that a third covid vaccine – Moderna – will arrive in the UK next month.
In total, Britain has ordered 17 million doses of the vaccine, which works in a similar way to the Pfizer jab, although the first deliveries are expected to be far smaller than those being provided by the two current manufacturers.
NHS services have been told to restrict first doses to those in the first nine priority groups – including all those aged 50 and over – to ensure that all are offered a jab by April 15.
The Culture Secretary also suggested that while domestic vaccine passports could be useful in the short-term, any rollout would be time limited and would remain on a “permanent basis.”
Ministers are studying their potential use, which could see access to venues granted only if customers have been jabbed, received negative tests, or developed antibodies through past infection.
His comments were echoed by Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford, who said he had discussed the proposals with Michael Gove and the first ministers of Scotland and Northern Ireland on Tuesday last week.
“”I think there are definitely prizes to be won through domestic vaccine certification, but there are very big practical and ethical challenges to face as well,” he told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show.
Professor Mark Woolhouse, a member of the Government’s Scientific Pandemic Insights Group on Behaviours (Spi-B), said the use of passports “certainly” had to be considered to make post-lockdown life safe.
However, his Spi-B colleague Professor Stephen Reicher said on Saturday that certificates could compound hesitancy in those already sceptical of vaccines and lead to “social division.”