The UK’s decision not to join an EU plan to distribute a potential coronavirus vaccine to its most vulnerable citizens has been described as “unforgivable” and condemned by health charities.
The European commission has been in “intensive” talks with leading drugs manufacturers to make advance purchases of any future vaccine. Under the joint procurement plan, the commission will then distribute doses to the Europeans in greatest need first amid an inevitable international battle to source the drugs. Under Brussels’ proposed procurement scheme, the commission will finance part of the upfront costs of vaccine production in exchange for the right to buy a specified number of doses at an agreed price and timeframe.
Alex Harris, the head of global policy at the Wellcome Trust, said the EU scheme had been “morally right” and called for reassurance that the UK was not setting itself up as a competitor to the bloc.
“The EU vaccine initiative’s cap on how many doses participating countries get is the best way to ensure there is enough vaccine for those in need in the rest of the world,” he said. “Delivering vaccine according to need and not who can pay the highest price is not just morally right, but also the fastest way to end this pandemic. We urge the UK government to follow the EU’s lead and only secure vaccine doses for those who need it most (healthcare workers, over-65s and other vulnerable groups).”
The UK government’s decision to pull out of talks with the European commission is evidence of an international battle among rich countries to buy up coronavirus drugs.