Covid vaccine inequality ‘monumental international policy failure,' says Gordon Brown

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Covid vaccine inequality ‘monumental international policy failure,’ says Gordon Brown
© Getty Images Gordon Brown

The worldwide persistence of vaccine and testing inequity in the fight against Covid-19 is the “most monumental international public policy failure of recent times,” former prime minister Gordon Brown has said.

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An ambassador for the World Health Organisation (WHO), Mr Brown warned that “history will not be kind” to the current generation of western leaders if they “fail to rise to this global challenge”.

The former PM was speaking during a WHO briefing in which representatives called upon high-income countries to pump £16.8 billion into the body’s ACT-Accelerator – a global collaboration dedicated to developing, producing and distributing Covid tests, treatments and vaccines.

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Mr Brown said that nearly 70 per cent of richer nations were fully vaccinated, compared to just five per cent in lower-income countries. Meanwhile, only 11 per cent of the whole population in Africa has received two shots.

“Testing inequalities are even starker,” he added, highlighting how nearly 80 per cent of tests are carried out in the richest countries, while less than half of 1 per cent take place in the poorest.

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This inequality “is the most monumental international public policy failure of recent times precisely because it is so avoidable,” Mr Brown said. “If we do not rectify this, it will haunt us in times to come.

“It is an ethical failure because the rich countries have abandoned our moral obligations to the poor. It is an economic failure. The IMF have estimated the global economy stands to lose around 5 trillion in the next four years. That’s 300 times what the 16 billion is there to do.

“And it is an epidemiological failure. We urgently need the 16 billion because we do not fully fund preventative action [against infectious diseases].”

Warnings have also been sounded over the mounting issue of vaccine wastage, with 100 million doses estimated to have already expired by the end of last year, according to analysis from data science group Airfinity.

A further 100 million unused doses are set to be destroyed globally later this month, according to Dr Yodi Alakija, a WHO special envoy for the ACT-Accelerator.

In the UK, two million jabs are due to expire and be discarded imminently, one NHS source said. Last year, more than 600,000 AstraZeneca doses were destroyed by the government after a change in vaccine policy meant they became surplus to requirements.

“This destruction of vaccines is a moral outrage,” said Mr Brown. “A small number of countries have monopolised the purchase and therefore control the supply of the vast majority of vaccines.

“That means that some of these countries have been hoarding the vaccines, stockpiling them at least, and then they get to a position where they are running out and they are past the use-by date.”

The former PM said vaccine nationalism and the unnecessary destruction of doses meant “lives are being lost”.

He called upon the US, Canada, the UK and the European Union, which have “a very large supply of vaccines still coming to them”, to amend their contracts with drug makers to redirect their orders to countries who are in need, while donating more of their excess doses.

“It does require coordination between these countries to get the supplies out. It’s almost like a military exercise to make sure that they can get out in time,” Mr Brown said.

The wastage of doses comes as the “yawning gap” between the vaccinated rich and unvaccinated poor “tragically continues to widen,” he added, while reiterating the need for western governments to contribute more funding to the global response to Covid.

“We are at an important moment because this is not the time to relax or let our guard slip. The actions of world leaders will determine the fate of millions and they will decide whether or not we can overcome further waves of Covid.

“History will not be kind to our current leaders but condemn them if they fail to rise to this global challenge now.”

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