Millions of COVID jabs risk being wasted, says UNICEF

Shanghai/China-Jan.2020: New type coronavirus pneumonia in Wuhan has been spreading many cities in China. People wearing surgical mask sitting in subway in Shanghai

Rich nations are being asked to start donating COVID-19 vaccines to other parts of the world straight away, to avoid a glut of surplus supply in the coming months that could see millions of doses going to waste.

In an open letter, UNICEF and a host of A list celebrities argue that G7 countries will soon have enough doses to allow 20% of their supply to be donated between June and August  - more than 150 million doses – without affecting their national vaccination campaigns.

Stars including singer Billie Eilish, actor Olivia Colman and tennis player Andy Murray added their signatures to the letter.

It has been published a few days before the next G7 summit – bringing together leaders from the UK, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the US – gets underway in the UK on Friday.

Waiting until adult vaccination is completed and delivering all leftover doses at once will present an insurmountable challenge for healthcare systems in developing countries, and it is likely that the shots will be unable to be distributed before they expire.

UNICEF is one of the charities involved with the COVAX vaccine-sharing programme, but said the scheme is "currently 190 million doses short of where it needs to be, which leaves vulnerable people dangerously unprotected."

"Some countries have committed to donating vaccines later this year, but doses are needed now," according to the charity.

"We're asking you to make these urgent donations by August and to set out a roadmap to scale up donations as supplies increase," says the letter. "Forecasts suggest as many as 1 billion doses may be available for donation by year end."

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said that the world's biggest economies must go further and pledge to vaccinate the world by the end of next year, but sharing surplus doses with developing countries bilaterally and through COVAX.

UNICEF's vaccine lead Lily Caprani told the BBC that with COVID-19 vaccines now being approved for use children and adolescents, "the priority at this moment has to be making sure that all of the vulnerable and priority groups around the world get vaccines."

That position is at odds with the position taken by UK Health Sectretary Matt Hancock, who said last week that vaccinating children in the UK would take priority over international donations, according to the BBC.