GORDON BROWN: Hoarding jabs we don't need will be a scar on our souls

GORDON BROWN: Hoarding Covid jabs we don’t need – but the rest of the world is crying out for – will be a scar on our souls

The heroism of our health workers and the genius of our vaccine inventors will be immortalised when Covid is written up in the history books.

But despite their efforts the world is at a crossroads this weekend: we may be little more than halfway through the damage caused by Covid.

So far, 242million men, women and children have been infected by Covid. But in the next year alone, ACT-A – the body coordinating diagnostics, vaccines and treatments – expects another 200million cases.

As of yesterday, the official figure for deaths was 4.9million, but in a new report, out this week, ACT-A medical experts say that over the next year they expect another 5million to die.

World leaders, who meet in Rome this weekend, must confront the continuing fall-out from what is now a two-track pandemic in which the fates of the vaccinated and the unvaccinated are diverging with devastating effects.

Rollout: A Kenyan girl receives a jab of the Covid vaccine in Masai village, southern Kenya. The Covid vaccination rate in the east African country is only 2.8 per cent

Three-quarters of next year’s cases – 142million – are now expected to occur in the unvaccinated low and middle-income countries.

From there, if we do not act quickly, the disease will spread and mutate and new variants will come back to haunt even the fully-vaccinated here at home.

But there is a way forward. By December, the world will have produced a total of 12billion vaccines – enough to offer two shots to every adult.

But in a dozen countries, only 1 per cent or less have been vaccinated compared with 70 per cent in most of the West.

In low-income countries as a whole, the figure is just 3 per cent. Just one in ten health workers in Africa has been immunised.

So unequal is the distribution of vaccines that, even after we set aside vaccines for young people and make allowance for boosters and donations to poorer countries, there are today 240million unused vaccines stockpiled in Western countries.

The figure rises when the stock of unused doses across the richest 20 countries is added, which as a whole amount to 750million. By February, that stockpile will reach 1.75billion.

The number of unused Covid vaccine doses in the richest 20 countries is expected to reach 1.75billion by February 2022 (stock image)

To have manufactured enough vaccines to immunise every adult, but to hold and hoard these vaccines in one half of the world and deny them to the other half is a moral outrage and represents the biggest international public policy failure of our times.

Tragically, many of the hundreds of millions of doses stockpiled will soon reach their ‘use-by’ date and have to be destroyed if not donated immediately.

100million vaccines are at risk of expiring by December in the US, Canada, UK and EU alone, and by February the figure could exceed 200million across the G20.

At a time when only two in five health care workers globally are fully vaccinated, the vaccines should be in arms, saving lives, not on shelves, gathering dust.

The delays mean that the September target of fully vaccinating 10 per cent of every nation’s population was missed in 56 countries.

The number of additional doses we need to achieve our target of vaccinating 40 per cent of every country by the end of the year is 500million, but on current projections, 82 countries are at risk of missing that goal too.

GORDON BROWN has warned that the low vaccination rate in poorer countries will threaten to breed a Covid variant which could engulf us all

Despite the promise of donations to come, this vaccine inequity will be a scar on the soul of the world unless the countries that hold the vaccines – and still have a near monopoly on future orders – agree to transfer their delivery contracts to those who need them.

Saturday’s G20 can start to address these inequalities. There should be an immediate airlift of the 240million unused vaccines stocked by the four largest western G20 members – the EU, the US, the UK and Canada – to the global South.

If this happens, then other G20 members who have unused vaccines – Australia (38million unused vaccines) and Korea (43million) as well as China – could be persuaded to switch their delivery contracts to COVAX, the body promoting the vaccine internationally, enabling us to make good the 500million shortfall between now and December.

Then, as manufacturing is ramped up to 2billion doses a month, we can have every reason to expect we will reach 70 per cent of coverage earlier than planned – by June 2022.

The pandemic is humanity’s greatest test of solidarity yet, and our generation will be judged by how many deaths we can prevent.

We have the tools to reach the goal of vaccinating 70 per cent of every country by next year, but only if we act now can we save many of the five million lives whose fate this weekend is in our collective hands.

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