Gordon Brown urges rich countries to airlift surplus Covid vaccines to world’s poorest

Gordon Brown has called on the British government and other G20 countries to urgently arrange a military airlift of surplus Covid vaccines to poorer countries before they expire, saying it is their “moral responsibility” to do so.

The former prime minister has organised a letter from more than 160 former world leaders and global figures calling for richer countries to send 240m vaccines stored in the US, Europe and Canada to countries struggling to vaccinate their populations.

The letter is addressed to the Italian prime minister, Mario Draghi, who is hosting this weekend’s G20 summit in Rome, and calls for urgent action.

Brown, who is the World Health Organization ambassador for global health financing, said about 100m of the vaccines held in the UK and other western countries would pass their expiry date by Christmas and risk not being used at all.

“If you don’t get them out quickly, you’re going to lose them altogether,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme. “And I think what people hate most of all is waste, If you can save lives through getting these vaccines out, it’s a moral responsibility to do so, as well as being in our self-interest to prevent further outbreaks of new variants.”

Brown said 2% of low-income countries had been vaccinated and 5% of Africa, where only 10% of health workers had been vaccinated.

He added: “We’ve got about 240m vaccines that are stored in America, Europe, United Kingdom and Canada that are not being used, that are not needed, because we’ve accounted for vaccines for boosters and vaccines for young people and we’ve got to get them out to the people who need them to save lives.”

More than 5 million people have died from coronavirus since the start of the pandemic. If vaccinations were not distributed, Brown warned that an additional 5 million people would die from the virus.

He said it was not the fault of Covax, the global vaccine distribution initiative, but that it was down to G20 leaders, who have control of what happens to unused vaccines that he claimed were usually over-ordered.

He said the UK’s Covax donation of 100m vaccines was being distributed too slowly and that the government lacked urgency.

“There’s an urgency about saving lives and there’s also an urgency about preventing these vaccines passing their use-by date, and I don’t think the British government has yet realised the urgency of the problem and the need in the poorest countries,” he said.


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