Allowing poorer countries to remain unvaccinated for Covid is reckless, experts say

UK scientists say equitable inoculation around world is best way to prevent mutations

Allowing poorer countries to remain unvaccinated is a “reckless approach to public health” as coronavirus variants are more likely to develop, scientists have warned the UK government.

In a letter signed by more than 300 experts, including 13 members of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies, they said that vaccinating most of the world’s population was the best way to prevent coronavirus mutations.

The letter said vaccines would be ineffective in stopping new variants unless the UK ensured that more people in poorer countries were inoculated.

“Allowing huge numbers of people in low and middle-income countries to remain unvaccinated is a reckless approach to public health that creates conditions where new Sars-CoV-2 variants of concern are more likely to develop," the letter read.

“Indeed, the Omicron variant was first identified in Botswana and South Africa, on a continent in which fewer than one in 10 are fully vaccinated.

“Thanks to remarkable scientific innovations, we have a number of vaccines that remain highly effective against all known Covid-19 variants.

“Yet, unless we share this technology with the world and increase global vaccination coverage, vaccines will not be effective at stopping new variants of concern.

“We must use and expand domestic vaccine manufacturing and distribution capacity within low and middle-income countries.”

The experts urged British Prime Minister Boris Johnson to put public health before the commercial interests of the pharmaceutical industry “to prevent another year of uncertainty and tragedy”.

Mr Johnson was also urged to support international efforts to suspend intellectual property rules that stop lower-income nations from making Covid-19 vaccines, tests and treatments.

“Throughout this pandemic, the government has pledged that it will follow the science," said Lord Nigel Crisp, former chief executive of the National Health Service England.

“The scientific evidence has been clear since the start of the pandemic that the best way to keep ourselves and our NHS safe from new variants is to vaccinate the world.

“However laudable donations of vaccines might be, they will never be enough to end the pandemic.

“There is untapped manufacturing capacity in the very nations that need vaccines and treatments most. For the sake of people’s lives in those countries and our own, we must use it.”

A fellow at the UK Health Security Agency and an adviser to the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation also signed the letter.

Mr Johnson's office has been approached for comment.

Updated: January 28, 2022, 12:24 AM