UNITED Nations Children Emergency Fund (UNICEF) says millions of COVID-19 vaccines could be wasted if rich countries send large amounts of leftover doses to poorer nations in one go.
The charity said there needed to be a steady supply throughout the year because poor countries do not have resources to use them all at once.
The warning is coming after UK and others have promised to donate their surplus doses – but they have been asked to give earlier with stars including Billie Eilish and David Beckham backing UNICEF’s plea.
The celebrities have signed a letter to the G7 group of rich countries – including the UK – asking them to donate 20 per cent of their vaccines by August.
“The pandemic will not be over anywhere until it is over everywhere,” said Beckham.
The other stars who have signed the letter include Andy Murray, Olivia Colman, Ewan McGregor, Liam Payne, Priyanka Chopra Jonas, Orlando Bloom, Katy Perry, Gemma Chan, Whoopi Goldberg, Claudia Schiffer and Chris Hoy.
UNICEF’s vaccines lead, Lily Caprani said countries needed to vaccinate their own populations at the same time as the rest of the world.
“At some point, no doubt, we will need to vaccinate under-18s,” she said. “But the priority at this moment has to be making sure that all of the vulnerable and priority groups around the world get vaccines. So we’re saying countries like the UK and the G7 need to donate their doses to those low income countries now, while still vaccinating their populations at home,” he said.
But last week, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said vaccinating children in the UK would take priority over sending doses abroad. Unlike other countries, the UK has not revealed how many doses it plans to donate to the Covax vaccine-sharing scheme, saying only that it will donate its excess doses. On Friday, Hancock said UK did not currently have any spare doses.
Earlier this week more than 100 former prime ministers, presidents and foreign ministers urged leaders of the G7 countries to pay two-thirds of the £46.6bn needed to vaccinate low-income countries against COVID.
Former UK Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, said the G7 and other wealthy nations “should pay their share” to help parts of Africa and Asia.
A letter by the celebrities said UNICEF was already delivering vaccines in poor countries – but the charity was 190 million doses short. The letter also said G7 countries – the UK, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the US – will soon have enough to donate 20 per cent of their doses between June and August without significant delay to their own rollouts, and doing that would provide more than 150 million doses to Covax.