Tony Blair urges Britain to lead world reform of vaccine distribution

Former UK prime minister highlights an ‘abdication of leadership’ in tackling pandemic

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Britain should use its leadership of the G7 to fix the problems that have emerged in the distribution of Covid-19 vaccines, former Prime Minister Tony Blair said, as he decried a lack of global co-operation during the pandemic.

Mr Blair, prime minister from 1997 to 2007, said gaps in manufacturing and data surveillance need to be plugged in case redeveloped vaccines are required to tackle new strains of the virus that have seen cases surge across the world.

Speaking at an event organised by think tank Chatham House he told Jeremy Hunt, the UK’s former health and foreign secretary, that should a new vaccine be required further down the line, taking action now would ensure it is administered much faster.

“The absence of global co-operation in the pandemic, as you and I have both said, Jeremy, has been shocking. It’s been a real abdication of leadership and what is very clear to me now about the pandemic is that we’re just in a new phase of it,” Mr Blair said.

“So you’re going to find in the next year – I think – that we’re going to have to be adapting vaccines to new strains of the disease. The thing that’s really changed in my view about the disease in the last few weeks, which is why there’s this enormous global pressure to acquire vaccines, is that most policymakers thought you would have three phases to this pandemic.

“You’d have a starting phase where you lock down, you then have a second phase where you have control of the disease but we’re living with it for a time,” he said. “And then you’d have a third phase, reasonably steady, where you rolled out the vaccine.”

Instead, the second phase had “collapsed”, Mr Blair said. He also urged the UK to play a key role in ensuring that the vaccine is distributed equally.

“For Britain, for example, leading the G7 at the moment, it could be mobilising how we make sure we cure some of the problems that have been exposed in the manufacturing, production, in research and development, data surveillance.

“We could be plugging some of those gaps now so that if in the autumn time we’re having to develop new vaccines – or even in the summer – in order to deal with new strains of the disease, we’re doing it far faster,” Mr Blair said.

Earlier this week, the Sunday Times reported that Mr Blair has been advising the UK government on its response to Covid-19.