Millions of Britons travel to countries with low vaccination rates every year, I the analysis found, as vaccine creator Oxford / AstraZeneca said, the delivery of vaccines to countries that have fallen behind is “urgent”.
Restrictions have now been largely lifted in the UK, where vaccination rates are high – but scientists have warned that low levels of immunity in other countries could lead to dangerous new variants.
Professor Dame Sarah Gilbert, who led vaccine development at the University of Oxford, warned that “no one is safe until we are all safe” as she called for measures to ensure a more equitable distribution of vaccines.
In a letter co-authored with Dr Richard Hatchett, executive director of the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), the professor noted that global vaccine distribution can “protect us all by reducing the selection of additional variants.”
Some of the UK’s most popular travel destinations have very low proportions of their populations fully vaccinated, including populated countries where many Britons have family ties.
About 1.5 million people visited India in 2018 before the pandemic – but less than 20% of its population is fully vaccinated.
Among the UK’s most popular destinations, Pakistan has the smallest fully vaccinated population, with just 14% fully vaccinated and nearly three-quarters of a million people visiting the country before the pandemic.
India and South Africa, which were collectively visited nearly two million times in 2018, produced virulent variants of Covid-19. The Delta variant, which developed in India, spread to the UK before most of the rest of the world, in part due to the close ties between the two countries.
Thailand, another popular tourist destination for Britons, has struggled to immunize a substantial proportion of its population. About a third are so far fully vaccinated and more than half a million people a year from the UK have visited the country before the pandemic.
Dame Sarah and Dr Hatchett have warned of a potential “embarrassment of wealth” in the vaccine supply in the future. The co-authors added that offering booster shots and immunizing children, as the UK is currently doing, will put “additional pressure on global vaccine supplies.”
They wrote: “Such extensions of the use of Covid-19 vaccines by high-income countries will put additional pressure on global vaccine supplies and potentially further increase the disparities between high-income countries and the rest of the world. in terms of access to vaccines. “
The letter, published in Science Translational Medicine, adds that as the number of vaccines produced has increased “markedly”, the larger supply could make them available worldwide “as long as all countries are ready to. receive and deliver these life-saving vaccines. medical products. “
By early September 2021, 41.5% of the world’s population had received at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine, but only 1.9% of people in low-income countries had received it, they wrote.