POLITICS
31/01/2021 09:31 GMT

UK Could Share Vaccines But Must Jab Its People 'First', Minister Suggests

"Of course, we first need to make sure that our population is vaccinated," says Liz Truss.

The UK could share vaccines with other countries around the world but only after its own population has been protected against Covid, cabinet minister Liz Truss has suggested.

The international trade secretary acknowledged that “it won’t benefit people in Britain if we become a vaccinated island and many other countries don’t have the vaccine”.

But she said that any sharing of coronavirus jabs would not disrupt the UK’s plan to offer all adults their first does of vaccine by autumn this year.

It comes after an extraordinary row in which the EU briefly moved to override parts of the Brexit agreement on Northern Ireland to control the flow of jabs into the UK from the bloc, before U-turning amid an outcry.

Brussels has installed export controls and demanded British-manufactured AstraZeneca jabs, after becoming embroiled in a row with the pharmaceutical giant over shortages of its jabs produced in Europe.

Discussing the possibility of sharing vaccines with other countries, Truss told Sky News’s Sophy Ridge on Sunday: “Of course, we first need to make sure that our population is vaccinated. 

“We have a target to get the most vulnerable vaccinated by mid-February.

“It’s a bit too early to say about how we would deploy ‘XX’ vaccine, but we certainly want to work with friends and neighbours, we want to work with developing countries because we’re only going to solve this issue once everybody in the world is vaccinated.

“We’re also working to keep trade flowing, which is really important, keep tariffs low or eliminated on medical goods and supplies so that we can make sure that all the world benefits from the expertise here in the United Kingdom.”

Following the EU’s move on export controls ministers have expressed confidence that the UK’s vaccine supply, which includes Pfizer/BioNTech jabs imported from Europe, will not be affected. 

Foreign secretary Dominic Raab said he was “reassured the EU has no desire to block suppliers fulfilling contracts for vaccine distribution to the UK” after talks with European Commission executive vice-president Valdis Dombrovskis.

Truss said the UK can “absolutely guarantee” its programme of delivery of the Covid-19 vaccine.

She said: “The prime minister (Boris Johnson) has spoken to Ursula von der Leyen. She has been very clear that those contractual supplies won’t be disrupted. 

“That’s a very important assurance and, of course, we also have our UK-produced vaccines as well, and if you look at our vaccines pipeline, 367m doses, we have a significant supply to be able to vaccinate the UK population.”

But she stressed that vaccine nationalism must be resisted.

Truss said: “What we know about the vaccination programme is this is a global problem and we need a global solution.

“We’re only going to be able to deal with this disease if we get everybody vaccinated across the world.

“It’s vital we work together, it’s vital we keep borders open and we resist vaccine nationalism, and we resist protectionism.” 

She spoke after Tony Blair called the EU “very foolish” for trying to override the Brexit deal on Northern Ireland.

He told Ridge: “I was somebody who negotiated the Good Friday Agreement, it’s brought peace to the island of Ireland and it is absolutely vital that we protect it and that’s why what the European Commission did was unacceptable but, as you say, fortunately they withdrew it very quickly.”