The government’s strategy not to share a single vaccine dose with the rest of the world until its own entire adult population gets the jab is nothing but a smokescreen to please the populace and, ultimately, a self-defeating strategy.

First published in March 2021.

In Britain, we are cutting back our international development funding while making a lot of noise about ‘donating’ surplus vaccines to ‘poorer’ countries.

Words come cheap when politicians are in self-promotion mode.


When Boris Johnson pledged to donate the UK’s surplus vaccine supply to poorer countries at a virtual G7 meeting and urged other rich countries to follow his example, anti-poverty campaigners have immediately called the PM’s nonsense and said that the UK is not doing enough.

And it didn’t take long until Foreign Office minister James Cleverly told the BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that the UK Government would be a “global force for good” in fighting the pandemic but that it was “difficult to say” when the sharing of vaccines would happen.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), three-quarters of all vaccinations so far have happened in 10 countries that account for 60% of global gross domestic product. In the meantime, 130 countries have yet to administer a single dose.

Fortunately, the authorities in Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana have begun to vaccinate their healthcare workers two days ago. But this is only just the beginning, and rich nations like the UK must make an effort to share doses.

Vaccine nationalism

The UK, which represents only 0.87% of the world’s population66.6 million people, has ordered 457 million vaccine doses, i.e. enough for each of its residents to be vaccinated 3 times.

To compare, Africa, home to 17% of the world’s population1.3 billion people, yet the African Union managed to order only 672 million vaccine doses, i.e. enough doses to vaccinate only 38% of its population.

“The world is on the brink of a catastrophic moral failure,” Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the director-general of the WHO, said last January.

In a joint statement, Mr Adhanom and UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore called on governments that have vaccinated health workers and those at the highest risk to share doses with other countries.

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A self-defeating strategy

Not really.

Two weeks ago, before presenting his lockdown exit plan, Boris Johnson said he wanted the UK vaccination programme to “go further and faster”, pledging that all adults in the UK would be offered their first dose of vaccine by the end of July 2021.

Total first doses of Covid-19 vaccine administered in the UK and projections. | The Telegraph

No question, therefore, for the UK to share any vaccine doses until its entire adult population gets vaccinated. This is pushing this government’s vaccine nationalism to the maximum. Even if this means that most people receive only one jab and therefore lower protection to coronavirus variants, for the sake of being the first country to achieve that result — being the number one?

numerus unus?

“Covid vaccine nationalism will prolong the pandemic, not shorten it,” Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus rightly said.

Ultimately, vaccine nationalism — a populist’s smokescreen to please the populace — is a self-defeating strategy. Even if the entire population of the UK were to be vaccinated, the landing of new variants on the shores of this country — which is already happening with the South African variant and, more recently, the Brazilian variant — will not provide long-lasting protection against future vaccine-resistant variants that could rampage other parts of the world.

The longer coronavirus is left to run loose in countries such as Brazil — who Felipe Naveca, deputy director of research at the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation, estimates is already home to hundreds of new Covid-19 variants — the greater the chance that new, more contagious and more lethal variants will emerge that reduce the effectiveness of Covid-19 vaccines. Consequently posing a threat to countries such as the UK or the United States that will have already immunized their populations.

“Unless everyone in the world gets the vaccine soon, none of us will be protected,” former Peruvian health minister and epidemiologist Patricia Garcia said. “It will never stop.”

Sudan is the first country in the MENA region to receive COVID-19 vaccines as part of the COVAX initiative to ensure equitable access for everyone. | UNICEF

To overcome this global crisis, this coronavirus pandemic, we need to be open to joint action, not turn to self-interests or to the need to make ourselves safe before helping others. The virus knows no border. The virus doesn’t care about your politics, your nationality, your faith. We are an interconnected species.

“No one is safe until everyone is safe” has been a WHO mantra since the beginning of the pandemic.

When we hear the experts say that we are in this together and that, ultimately, the only way to vanquish the virus will be by working together, they mean it.

And so should we. 

“We sink or we swim together.” — Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

J.N. PAQUET, Author & Journalist, Editor of PMP Magazine.


Check their Voting Record:

🗳️ Boris Johnson

🗳️ James Cleverly

[This piece was originally published in [the brief] and re-published in PMP Magazine on 5 March 2021, with the author’s consent. | The author writes in a personal capacity.]

(Cover: Flickr/Number 10. - Boris Johnson. / Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.)

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