U.K. PM Boris Johnson says he wants a deal with G7 on vaccine passports

·4 min read
From 10 Downing Street in London, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson tells CBC chief political correspondent Rosemary Barton that the G7 needs to start work on crafting a global pandemic treaty that will help countries avoid the pitfalls and errors of the response to the COVID-19 pandemic. (Adrian Di Virgilio/CBC - image credit)
From 10 Downing Street in London, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson tells CBC chief political correspondent Rosemary Barton that the G7 needs to start work on crafting a global pandemic treaty that will help countries avoid the pitfalls and errors of the response to the COVID-19 pandemic. (Adrian Di Virgilio/CBC - image credit)

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson says he is looking to the G7 to come to an agreement on implementing vaccine passports and to start discussions on a global pandemic preparedness treaty at next month's meeting in the United Kingdom.

"We need to have agreements on issues such as vaccine passports, COVID status certification and the rest," Johnson told CBC News chief political correspondent Rosemary Barton in an exclusive Canadian interview airing today.

"There has to be some sort of agreement then, at the G7 level, to start, on how travel and passports are going to work going forward."

While Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has said that it's too early to discuss reopening the country to international travel, a statement put out by the Prime Minister's Office after Thursday's virtual meeting between the premiers and Trudeau said that discussions on the subject have begun.

"A broad consensus emerged out of the discussion between first ministers on collaborative efforts to develop a proof of vaccine credential to enable international travel based on sound principles, including respect for provincial and territorial jurisdiction and privacy of health information," the statement said.

The provinces need to find a way to work with the federal government on the issue because immunization records are held at the provincial level, while international borders and the issuing of passports fall under federal jurisdiction.

Johnson said that he sees a vaccine certification regime, or vaccine passport, as just one part of an international pandemic preparedness treaty that would set down approaches to deal with the next pandemic.

"If you look at what happened in the world in 2020, it was a terrible year for humanity and it was a terrible year for the international system," Johnson told Rosemary Barton Live.

"It was a terrible year for believers in global cooperation because the world simply became balkanized and everybody was, it was sauve qui peut. Everybody hung on to their stocks of PPE of protective equipment."

Johnson said countries around the world found it difficult to share medicines and vaccines, national approaches to quarantine and lockdowns varied greatly and global supply chains for essential goods were disrupted.

"We need to have rules so that there can be no interruptions of supplies across borders, so that we have secure supply chains for the things that we depend on in future," Johnson added.

Johnson also said it's critical to ensure that surplus vaccine doses ordered by developed countries such as Canada and the U.K. are shared with low-income countries as quickly as possible.

"Nobody is safe until everybody is safe," he said. "What we want the G7 to try to agree to is that instead of vaccinating the whole world by 2024 or 2025, which is … what we'd achieve on the current timetable, we need to get this done by the end of next year, by 2022."

The scientific advice that we have is that [Oxford-AstraZeneca is] a very, very valuable dose and its benefits are very considerable. - Prime Minister Boris Johnson

Johnson said his government struck a deal with the makers of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine to ensure that doses are shared with the world at cost.

Noting that his government has put some $1 billion into the COVAX initiative, Johnson said he would work with the G7 and Canada to ensure COVAX is fully funded and its efforts to distribute vaccines are accelerated.

COVAX is a global vaccine-sharing initiative jointly coordinated by the World Health Organization, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations and Gavi, The Vaccine Alliance.

The program pools funds from wealthier countries to buy vaccines for those countries and to ensure low- and middle-income countries have access to vaccines as well.

The federal government bought into COVAX with $440 million in September and committed an additional $75 million in February. Half of the original $440 million secured doses for Canadians, while the other half was directed toward providing doses for 92 countries that needed help securing vaccines.

Oxford-AstraZeneca

Almost all of the doses being distributed by COVAX are of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, which has been linked to a rare but potentially fatal blood clots. In Canada, provinces have stopped administering the vaccine as a first dose — but Johnson said he is not concerned about their safety.

"I'm going to rely wholly on … our medical health authorities, regulatory authorities," he said. "They look at this stuff very carefully. They take a very prudential, a very precautionary approach and they've given us the go-ahead. And we think that overwhelmingly the benefits for the people lie in getting vaccinated."

Johnson said that despite the position the U.K. has taken on the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, Canadians should follow the medical and scientific advice provided by Canadian officials.

"But the scientific advice that we have is that it's a very, very valuable dose and its benefits are very considerable," he said.

You can watch full episodes of Rosemary Barton Live on CBC Gem, the CBC's streaming service.