The World Health Organisation has urged wealthy nations to pump cash into a common pot to fill a $16 billion gap in funding required to immunise three-quarters of the global population against Covid-19.
Gordon Brown, a former UK prime minister and the WHO’s Ambassador for Global Health Financing, said leaders should do more to send unwanted Covid-19 shots to countries with lower inoculation levels. He condemned the wasting of 16 million doses of coronavirus vaccines as a “moral outrage“.
Mr Brown said “2022 must be the year when we finally bring Covid fully under control“ and that to achieve this, countries would have to provide more money.
So far, he said, only $800 million has been raised by the WHO’s Access to Covid Tools (ACT) Accelerator, the partnership set up to help the global community gain the tools to tackle the virus.
“That’s just a minuscule 5 per cent of what we require,“ he said on Tuesday. “It is time to awaken the conscience of the world.“
Mr Brown said the “yawning gap“ between the vaccination rates of rich and poor countries “tragically continues to widen“.
Three-quarters of people living in well-off nations have received at least two doses of a Covid vaccine, compared with 5 per cent in lower-income countries.
He cited the findings of health intelligence company Airfinity that 16 million unused vaccine doses stockpiled in the US, EU, UK and Canada had expired and had been destroyed.
Asked by The National about the role Britain had played in helping poorer nations to immunise more people, Mr Brown hit out at nations who have been “hoarding vaccines”. He said this approach was fuelling waste because millions of out-of-date doses in rich countries have been thrown away.
“That should have been anticipated. It should have been dealt with and it was wrong,” he said.
“And there are many more likely to have to be destroyed, and it’s simply because the country that made the orders, monopolised the contracts, have been reluctant to let these vaccines go in time for them to be used.
“People hate waste, and this destruction of vaccines is a moral outrage.“
Mr Brown served as Labour prime minister from 2007 to 2010 and chancellor in Tony Blair’s government from 1997 to 2007.
He spoke of the need for adequate screening to enable countries to fight the virus more effectively, but said inequality between rich and poor nations are “even starker” than the comparisons on vaccines.
Eighty per cent of Covid tests are carried out in wealthy countries, while a meagre 0.5 per cent are allocated to the poorest ones, he said.
”This continuing failure to ensure vaccine and testing equity is the most monumental international public policy failure of recent times precisely because it is so avoidable,” he said.
“And if we do not rectify this, it will haunt us in times to come. It is an ethical failure because the rich countries have abandoned our moral obligations to the poor. It is an economic failure … and it is an epidemiological failure.
“We urgently need the $16 billion because if we do not fully fund preventative action, the disease will continue to mutate.”
Under the “fair share formula” he proposed, European countries would pay about a quarter of the total and the US slightly more, with the rest paid by other G20 members and Gulf states.
Mr Brown made a direct appeal to British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and other G7 leaders – the US, Canada, Germany, France, Italy and Japan – not to lower their guard when responding to the continued threat posed by the virus.
Mr Johnson has, in recent weeks, accelerated England’s path away from Covid restrictions by scrapping curbs and pushing his “learn to live with Covid” game plan. But Mr Brown said that with the pandemic far from over, “this is not the time to relax”.
“History will not be kind to our current leaders but condemn them if they fail to rise to this global challenge now.”