Britain must send Covid vaccines to poorer countries now instead of waiting until it has a surplus, the new head of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) has warned.
Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala urged the government to act now as it is “in the interest” of rich countries as well as poor countries to have “equitable access”.
Boris Johnson pledged to donate the majority of the UK’s surplus vaccines to poorer nations in the lead-up to Friday’s virtual G7 meeting.
He told world leaders that there is “no point in us vaccinating our individual populations – we’ve got to make sure the whole world is vaccinated because this is a global pandemic”.
But Okonjo-Iweala told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on Saturday that while the move was “welcome”, there should not be a delay.
She said: “I don’t think we should wait to get surplus when other people have been served. I think that any donations that are coming must come now.
“The reason is very simple. It’s in the interest of rich countries as well as poor countries to have equitable access.”
G7 leaders said in a joint statement released after the virtual summit on Friday that they have raised their overall commitment to the Covax scheme – which aims to accelerated efforts towards equitable access to Covid vaccines – to $7.5bn (£5.3bn).
The United Nations secretary general Antonio Guterres on Friday called on wealthier countries to share Covid vaccines with poorer countries, warning that a failure to do so could come back to haunt them.
“The risk is, if we vaccinate only the developed countries and we let the virus spread in the developing world, the virus will mutate. The mutating will be more dangerous, but also more able to resist vaccines,” he said during a virtual meeting at the Munich Security Conference.
Guterres said that 75 percent of the vaccines distributed so far have been shared amongst 10 countries, describing the present situation as “chaotic” – highlighting the fact that 130 countries worldwide still haven’t received a single dose.