Carbis Bay, UK
Reuters

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson expects the Group of Seven to agree to donate one billion COVID-19 vaccine doses to poorer countries during its summit starting on Friday, and help innoculate the world by the end of next year.

Just hours after US President Joe Biden vowed to supercharge the battle against the coronavirus with a donation of 500 million Pfizer shots, Johnson said Britain would give at least 100 million surplus vaccines to the poorest nations.

COVID 19 vaccine and syringe

A woman holds a small bottle labelled with a "Coronavirus COVID-19 Vaccine" sticker and a medical syringe in this illustration taken on 30th October, 2020. PICTURE: Dado Ruvic/File photo

Johnson has already called on G7 leaders to commit to vaccinate the entire world by the end of 2022 and the group is expected to pledge one billion doses during its three-day summit in the English seaside resort of Carbis Bay.

Some campaign groups condemned the plan as a drop in the ocean, with Oxfam estimating that nearly four billion people will depend on COVAX for vaccines, the program that distributes COVID-19 shots to low and middle income countries. 

"As a result of the success of the UK's vaccine program we are now in a position to share some of our surplus doses with those who need them," Johnson will say on Friday, according to excerpts of the announcement released by his office. 

"In doing so we will take a massive step towards beating this pandemic for good."

COVID-19 has killed around 3.9 million people and ripped through the global economy, with infections reported in more than 210 countries and territories since the first cases were identified in China in December 2019.

While scientists have brought vaccines to market at breakneck speeds - Britain has given a first dose to 77 per cent of its adult population and the United States 64 per cent - they say the pandemic will only end once all countries have been vaccinated.

With a global population nearing eight billion and most people needing two doses, if not booster shots to tackle variants as well, campaigners said the commitments marked a start but world leaders needed to go much further, and much faster. 

"The G7's aim to provide one billion doses should be seen as an absolute minimum, and the timeframe needs to speed up," said Lis Wallace at anti-poverty campaign group ONE. 

"We're in a race with this virus and the longer it's in the lead the greater the risk of new, more dangerous variants undermining global progress." 

Of the 100 million British shots, 80 million will go to the COVAX program led by the World Health Organization and the rest will be shared bilaterally with countries in need. 

Johnson echoed Biden in calling on his fellow leaders to make similar pledges and for pharmaceutical companies to adopt the Oxford-AstraZeneca model of providing vaccines at cost for the duration of the pandemic.

Leaving poorer countries to deal with the pandemic alone risks allowing the virus to further mutate and evade vaccines. Charities have also said that logistical support will be needed to help administer large numbers of vaccines in poorer countries.

The British doses will be drawn from the stock it has already procured for its domestic program, and will come from suppliers Oxford-AstraZeneca, Pfizer-BioNTech, Janssen, Moderna and others.

Earlier, a WHO official said about 90 per cent of African countries will miss a September target to vaccinate at least 10 per cent of their populations against COVID-19 as a third wave of the pandemic looms on the continent.

Matshidiso Moeti, WHO regional director for Africa, said the continent required an extra 225 million doses to be able to vaccinate a tenth of its people by September this year.

Africa has hit five million COVID-19 cases, with the southern Africa region the worst affected, accounting for 37 per cent of total cases, according to a Reuters tally. South Africa is the worst affected African country, with about 34 per cent of the total cases and about 43 per cent of all deaths.

"With vaccine stocks and shipments drying up, the continent's vaccination coverage for the first dose remains stuck at two per cent and at about one per cent in sub-saharan Africa," Moeti told a weekly news briefing.

"Vaccines have been proven to prevent cases and deaths, so countries that can, must urgently share COVID-19 vaccines. It's do or die on dose sharing for Africa."

Moeti said US President Joe Biden plans to buy and donate 500 million doses of the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine to more than 90 countries was an important step forward in making vaccines available on the continent. 

Africa Centres for Disease Control director John Nkengasong said in a separate news conference that 14 African countries were "aggressively" heading towards a third wave of the coronavirus pandemic.

"You can clearly see that the variant that was identified in India is getting a hold on the continent. We continue to analyse the situation and see whether there is correlation between the variant and the third wave," said Nkengasong. 

- With MACDONALD DZIRUTWE