Offering Covid vaccine to children in wealthy nations

Expert who helped develop Oxford jab says it is ‘morally wrong’ to offer Covid vaccine to children in wealthy nations ahead of high-risk groups in poorer countries

  • Professor Andrew Pollard spoke of an ‘inequity’ in the global vaccine rollout 
  • Said not having vaccine equity around  world was also a risk to health security
  •  Comes as UK secured enough vaccine to offer the Pfizer jab for children aged 12 

Offering the Covid vaccine to children in wealthy countries when high-risk groups in poorer nations remain unvaccinated is ‘morally wrong’, the director of the Oxford Vaccine Group has said. 

Professor Andrew Pollard said it felt ‘completely wrong’ that vaccines were being rolled out to children who had a ‘near-to-zero’ risk of severe disease or death from Covid-19 ahead of priority groups from poorer countries.   

The scientist, who helped develop the Oxford/AstraZeneca Covid-19 jab, went on to say the ‘inequity’ in the global vaccine rollout was ‘absolutely plain to see at this moment in a very troubling way’.

His comments came as it emerged that the UK had secured enough Pfizer vaccines to inoculate children aged 12 and older if it is clinically approved. 

Professor Andrew Pollard said it felt ‘completely wrong’ that vaccines were being rolled out to children who had a ‘near-to-zero’ risk of severe disease or death from Covid-19 ahead of high-risk groups from poorer nations

Prof Pollard told the All Party Parliamentary Group on Coronavirus: ‘When you look at the overall aim of a global vaccination programme in a pandemic, it’s to stop people dying.

‘And we know who those people are – that’s the over-50s, it’s those who’ve got health conditions and to some extent also healthcare workers and so those are the priority groups.

‘We are in a situation at the moment where there are many unvaccinated people in the world but not enough doses for everyone yet.

‘But there are many unvaccinated people in the world, whilst people whose risk is extremely low are being vaccinated, including children, who have near-to-zero the risk of severe disease or death.

‘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 – colleagues that are just facing the most appalling circumstances, they’re not working in a situation where there’s an NHS to support them.

‘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.’

He added that not having vaccine equity around the world was also a risk to health security, adding: ‘If we have better distribution of vaccines, there is some downward pressure on variants of concern.’        

The University of Oxford and AstraZeneca committed previously to providing their Covid-19 vaccine on a not-for-profit basis for the duration of the pandemic across the world, and in perpetuity to low and middle-income countries.

On Monday, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the UK had secured enough of the Pfizer vaccine to offer it to those over the age of 12 if the jab was licensed for use among children in the UK.

The jab has already been approved for use among those over the age of 12 in the US.

Professor Kate O’Brien, from the WHO, said there was an ‘enormous gap in equity’ between vaccine distribution and access in high-income countries compared to low-income countries.

She told parliamentarians: ‘Some countries, including the UK, are advancing well beyond that highest priority group.

‘Some countries (are) considering immunisation of children, which is really about a transmission objective.

‘We have this really substantial gap between what some countries are achieving in terms of access and immunisation, while at the same time other countries are at the beginning of covering those highest priority groups.

‘It poses risks for every country for variants of concern.

Pictured: A nurse administers the coronavirus vaccine to a patient at the Haxby and Wigginton Group Medical Practice in Haxby

Britain confirmed another 2,412 Covid infections, down two per cent on the same time last week

Department of Health data showed another seven Covid deaths were recorded today, down by 65 per cent from last Tuesday when 20 were recorded

‘And from an economic perspective, we are so interconnected around the world that the recovery of the economy domestically is dependent on a recovery globally as well.’

Professor Gavin Yamey, director of the Centre for Policy Impact in Global Health at Duke University in the US, said he was worried that richer countries would hoard vaccines for potential booster shots needed in the future.

‘I really think we need to acknowledge that it’s fine to continue donating, but there has to be a long-term vision – this pandemic could be with us for years, is it really just going to be charity, you know, drip, drip, drip of a few doses from rich countries? That’s not a long-term vision,’ he said.

Prof O’Brien added that more action could be taken by high-income countries and manufacturers to release vaccines quickly.

This could include countries who had secured early access deals, and manufacturers, to release doses to the vaccine-sharing facility Covax.

‘Firstly, it really is about countries allowing manufacturers to put Covax first in the line,’ she said.

‘Secondly, releasing doses that they already have access to. Third is raw material release as well. And finally, fully funding Covax.’

Earlier today, positive test data revealed the Indian variant had already overtaken the Kent strain in 23 English local authorities and had spread to 40 per cent of the country.

Analysis of samples from people infected with Covid revealed that by the week ending May 8, the variant accounted for eight in 10 cases in hotspots Bolton, Blackburn with Darwen, Sefton and Bedford, as well as in Chelmsford in Essex and Croydon in London.

Data suggested it was also dominant – accounting for more than half of all positive tests – in Nottingham, West Lancashire, Stevenage, Oadby and Wigston, South Northamptonshire, Broxbourne, Hillingdon, Brent, Camden, Hounslow, Greenwich, Bromley, Dartford, Sevenoaks, Canterbury, Rushmoor and Hart.

Despite the worrying development, the Prime Minister stressed that the roadmap out of lockdown was currently unchanged with the government sifting through emerging data about the fast-spreading strain.

But he appeared to shift his language slightly by saying there was not yet ‘conclusive’ evidence that the roadmap would need to be altered and said things would be clearer in a ‘few days’. 

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