Campaigners call on FM to send ‘clear message’ on vaccine equity

Oxfam Scotland says Nicola Sturgeon must send message to Boris Johnson over increasing vaccine availability in poorer nations.

Campaigners call on FM to send ‘clear message’ on vaccine equity Scottish Parliament TV
Campaigners want Nicola Sturgeon to intervene on vaccine availability issue.

Campaigners are calling on Scotland’s First Minister to send a “clear, personal message” to Boris Johnson that more needs to be done to increase the number of Covid vaccines available in poorer nations.

Nicola Sturgeon is being urged to intervene and tell the Prime Minister that if he fails to act on this issue he will be “standing on the wrong side of history and Scotland will not stand alongside him”.

It comes in the wake of SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford challenging Johnson to “do the right thing” and waive intellectual property rights to vaccine patents – at least temporarily – to allow developing countries to manufacture vaccines for themselves.

Now the People’s Vaccine Alliance – whose members in Scotland include Oxfam Scotland, Global Justice Now Scotland and Christian Aid Scotland – is urging rich nations to insist on the open sharing of successful vaccine technology and know-how, and to help fund a huge expansion in vaccine production all over the world.

With the Omicron variant now present in Scotland, the People’s Vaccine Alliance warned people here could continue to be at risk from new strains of Covid unless more is done to ensure more people in developing nations can get protected.

Sturgeon was urged to step in one year on from the first coronavirus vaccines being given in the UK.

Jamie Livingstone, head of Oxfam Scotland, said: “This time last year the world was offered a glimmer of hope as we watched the first vaccine dose being given.

“But one year on, for millions of people living in low-income countries around the world, that hope has all but vanished.

“While the impact of the new Omicron variant remains unclear, the consequences of pharmaceutical companies being allowed to hold lifesaving vaccine recipes and technology hostage are already crystal clear – there simply aren’t enough doses to go around and until there are, we’ll continue to run the risk of new variants like Omicron threatening lives, vaccine efficacy and fragile economic recoveries in all countries, including in Scotland and across the UK.

“We’re seeing mounting recognition of this threat in Scotland, but the First Minister must send a clear, personal message to Boris Johnson that if he continues to put patent and profit protection above saving lives, he is standing on the wrong side of history and Scotland will not stand alongside him.”

Liz Murray, the head of Scottish campaigns at Global Justice Now, said the “stark inequality” in the distribution of vaccines could have been avoided.

Murray said: “African governments have been calling for pharmaceutical companies to urgently share vaccine technology and for patents on vaccines to be waived, so that billions more doses could be made and distributed.

“But the UK has repeatedly blocked attempts to make this happen.”

She added: “We urge Nicola Sturgeon to call on the UK Government to stop blocking the waiver on vaccine patents.”

Meanwhile, Sally Foster-Fulton, the head of Christian Aid Scotland, said: “A year on from the first vaccine being given, the pandemic is still far from over – least of all for the world’s poorest people, millions of whom still face a lengthy wait for their first lifesaving dose.

“The Prime Minister must not continue to side with pharmaceutical billionaires who are artificially rationing global vaccine supply at the expense of countless lives.

“We call on the First Minister to urge him to change direction and prioritise protecting lives rather than profits and patents.”

International development minister Jenny Gilruth said: “We support calls for vaccine equity across the world.

“The UK Government has a duty to ensure that vaccines are distributed as fairly as possible to those most in need, particularly in developing countries.

“I have repeatedly requested meetings with the UK Government to discuss this matter, but these requests have gone unanswered, which is deeply worrying.”

She said the Scottish Government has provided international development funding “to support vaccine preparedness and delivery”, including £2m to Unicef.