A week ago, there was a palpable sense that spring was approaching and that our long Covid winter was coming to an end. All the data told the same story – of a virus being forced into retreat by a superbly orchestrated vaccine campaign that was further aided by citizens who were prepared to endure the hardships of lockdown for months.

Now that comfortable picture looks less rosy. Numbers of people being vaccinated remain extraordinarily high – with more than half a million jabs being administered in the UK on several days recently and half of all adults now having received at least one dose. However, we were also made painfully aware last week of the fragility of our position in the midst of a pandemic that still rages across the planet. Reserves of precious vaccines that are our lifeline to normality have come under threat as supply chains have begun to buckle under the strain of manufacturing the billions of jabs needed to free our planet from the curse of Covid-19.

In addition, EU leaders and health agencies have shown an extraordinary ineptness – verging on downright incompetence – in trying to fashion a coherent vaccination policy. Vaccine nationalism, in which states and political blocs vie for supremacy of supplies, now threatens to become a global realty. The extent of this looming crisis was revealed most clearly last week by European commission president, Ursula von der Leyen. She warned that the EU may halt vaccine exports to nations failing to show reciprocity by allowing supplies to reach the bloc. Nor did she disguise the fact that the UK would be a prime target for such a ban, a warning that came as a third wave of the pandemic spreads across the continent, threatening an exhausted and frightened population.

Britain has no right to feel complacent about its responses to Covid. The nation verged on criminal incompetence over its attempts to control the disease last year and it is only in the last few months – with its well-organised, NHS-based vaccination programme – that it has shown signs of being able to tackle Covid. The incompetence of the EU’s response makes us look better than we deserve.

The United Kingdom should therefore resist temptations to sneer at neighbouring countries. For a start, reversals in national fortunes have been all too common over the history of this pandemic. In addition, indulgence in vaccine nationalism would be a betrayal of our global responsibilities. As Jeremy Farrar, director of the Wellcome Trust pointed out yesterday, the UK now has access to 100m surplus vaccine doses. Such supplies should not be used as a means to gloat over other developed nations. They should be given to those nations who have most need of them – as a matter of urgency.

Such a move is a straightforward ethical imperative, a means to save millions of lives by helping nations who lack health services to develop Covid vaccines on their own. That is sufficient motivation in itself – though there would be other benefits. If Covid-19 is left to spread unchecked across the globe, the virus could mutate to an extent that current vaccines and treatments might no longer work – leaving us all exposed to waves of re-infection. Thus science is providing us with an exit strategy, but it is one that will only work if it can be shared with the rest of the world.

Covid-19 is a global problem that must be dealt with globally, for until we are all safe, no one is safe. Indulging in vaccine nationalism will only postpone the day when we can return to a life unfettered by lockdowns, social distancing and all the other restrictions of our current Covid winter.

This content first appear on the guardian

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