Britain's vaccines minister on Friday dismissed suggestions that the country was getting key Covid-19 jabs intended for poorer countries, insisting that the 10 million doses coming from India were always intended for distribution in the UK.
Nadhim Zahawi, in an interview with The Associated Press, confirmed reports that the Serum Institute of India, one of the world's largest vaccine makers, would be sending doses of the vaccine developed by Oxford University and AstraZeneca to the UK.
Non-governmental organizations such as Medecins Sans Frontieres have raised concerns that shipments from the Serum Institute would reduce supplies to developing countries. Zahawi insisted this was not the case.
“We, of course, sought assurances from AstraZeneca and from Serum that our doses will not impact their commitment to the low-income and middle-income countries of the world,'' he said.
“And they are making about 300 million doses available to low- and middle-income countries. You've seen those arrive in Accra in Ghana, last week and the Philippines this week … and Ivory Coast as well. And you're going to see much more of that volume also going out.''
Britain has given at least one dose of the vaccine to about 21 million people, more than 30 per cent of the population, and plans to inoculate all adults by the end of July.
In an effort to rapidly vaccinate as many people as possible, public health officials have recommended that most people receive their second dose after 12 weeks, rather than the four weeks originally anticipated.
They say a single dose offers a high degree of protection, although two doses are needed to gain the full benefits of vaccination.
As more people become eligible for their second dose, the rate at which new patients receive their first shot has slowed. An average of about 327,000 people a day received their first dose of vaccine in the seven days through Feb. 28, down from a peak of 441,000 three weeks earlier.
Zahawi said the government has built a network of vaccination sites capable of meeting the increased demand, and he is confident of meeting the July goal for all adults.
“It's a very large deployment infrastructure that we've put in place that can deploy at much greater rates than what we've experienced to date,” he said.
With the program's successful rollout, Britain and other wealthy countries are under pressure to share their supplies with poorer nations through a United Nations-backed mechanism known as the COVAX Facility.
Britain has acquired the rights to 457 million doses of various vaccines, more three times the total needed to fully vaccinate everyone in the country. Prime Minister Boris Johnson has pledged to donate unneeded doses to other countries, but he hasn't offered a timetable.
“The bulk of it will be offered through COVAX,” Zahawi said. Some may be offered “through bilateral relationships as well.”