Giving COVID jabs to young and healthy people in wealthy countries is 'morally wrong', says top vaccine expert

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NEW DELHI, INDIA - MAY 10: People Beneficiary ( Heavy Rush ) in the age group of 45 above waiting to get covax Covid vaccine at UPHC Darya Ganj on May 10, 2021 in New Delhi, India. (Photo by Sonu Mehta/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)
People queue to receive their vaccines, provided by the COVAX scheme, in New Delhi, India. (Getty Images)

Giving coronavirus jabs to young and healthy people in wealthy countries while poor countries struggle is “morally wrong”, a vaccine expert has said.

Professor Andrew Pollard, director of the Oxford Vaccine Group and leader of the clinical trials for the AstraZeneca jab, said there is huge inequity between how many jabs nations are able to administer.

He told MPs on Tuesday it feels “morally wrong” that some rich countries are contemplating offering COVID-19 vaccines to children before vulnerable people in poorer nations receive theirs. 

He told the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Coronavirus: “When you look at the overall aim of a vaccination programme – it’s to stop people dying – it’s the over 50s, the healthcare workers and those with a pre-existing health condition. 

Watch: UK is 'most positive' country for COVID vaccine uptake, says Boris Johnson

“Yet there are many unvaccinated people in the world, while in wealthier countries, we are looking to vaccinate children. 

“The inequity feels completely wrong morally. We have lost the line of sight as to what we are trying to do, that is to stop the pandemic everywhere.”

Director of the Oxford Vaccine Group, Andrew Pollard speaks during a virtual press conference inside 10 Downing Street in central London on November 23, 2020. - Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Monday expressed optimism for an end to coronavirus restrictions as he announced the lifting of measures in England from early next month.
Director of the Oxford Vaccine Group, Andrew Pollard, says there is vaccine inequity between nations. (AFP via Getty Images)

He added: “That inequity is absolutely plain to see at this moment in a very troubling way as we see the images from South Asia on our televisions of the awful circumstances now.

“And it feels completely wrong to be in a situation morally where we were allowing that to happen whilst in many countries vaccines are being rolled out to younger and younger populations at very, very low risk.”

His comments came after the director-general of the World Health Organization (WHO), Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said the world has entered a “vaccine apartheid”.

He said that while some wealthy nations have stockpiles of vaccines, some poorer countries, including Chad, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Eritrea and Tanzania in Africa, have yet to receive any at all.

"The big problem is a lack of sharing. So the solution is more sharing," he said.

Last month, Dr Tedros said only 0.3% of vaccines administered around the world had gone to people in low-income countries.

He accused wealthy nations of undermining the WHO’s Covax vaccine scheme by “gobbling up” global supply.

Earlier this month, US president Joe Biden backed a move by the World Trade Organization (WTO) to temporarily lift patent protections for COVID-19 vaccines.

Supporters of the patent waiver say it will increase global production of the vaccine but manufacturers are against the plan.

On Tuesday, Reuters reported that G20 nations plan to snub the waiver proposal, instead backing “voluntary licensing” of COVID-19 vaccine patents.

In the UK, more than 36.7 million people have now had a first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, while more than 20.2 million have had both jabs, according to government figures.

There were 1,979 new cases of coronavirus in the latest 24-hour period and five deaths within 28 days of a positive coronavirus test.

Watch: EU leaders call for vaccine exports, not patent waivers

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