Rich countries urged to share vaccine amid Omicron concerns

(Photo: Unsplash/Martin Sanchez)

As the international community grapples with the Omicron variant, the Bishop of Durham is calling on the UK government to "commit to redoubling efforts" to achieve vaccine equity. 

Speaking in the House of Lords, Bishop Paul Butler said the spread of Omicron showed that the virus "knows no national boundaries". 

Omicron is behind a surge of new Covid cases in South Africa, where it has become the dominant strain.

The UK, US, South Korea and United Arab Emirates are among the countries to have reported their first cases. 

The bishop is calling for a "global approach" to the pandemic.

He passed on a message to peers from South African Archbishop Thabo Makgoba appealing for greater vaccine equity.

 "In the light of the new omicron variant that has dominated the news over the weekend, my colleague Archbishop Thabo Makgoba of Cape Town urged those of us in rich countries to do better at narrowing inequality of vaccination rates, which are 7% in Africa and 70% in Europe," Butler said. 

"We must acknowledge that this virus knows no national boundaries and will spread, mutate and return to us in the way that we are seeing, so we need a global approach, not simply a bilateral approach.

"Will Her Majesty's Government's commit to redoubling efforts to seek a truly global approach to vaccine donation to ensure that people in all nations are safer?"

Replying on behalf of the government, Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park agreed that a multilateral approach was needed.

"My Lords, the Government strongly agree and we are committed to supporting rapid, equitable access to safe and effective vaccines through multilateral co-operation to end the acute phase of this pandemic," he said.

"That is why the UK supports the COVAX facility and was one of the first countries to do so. It is, as the right reverend Prelate knows, a multilateral mechanism that supports access by pooling resources to accelerate the development, manufacture and delivery of vaccines.

"More than 537 million vaccines have so far been delivered globally through that scheme."