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Feature The BMJ Interview

Jeremy Farrar: Make vaccine available to other countries as soon as our most vulnerable people have received it

BMJ 2021; 372 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.n459 (Published 19 February 2021) Cite this as: BMJ 2021;372:n459

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photograph of Jeremy Farrar
  1. Mun-Keat Looi, international features editor
  1. The BMJ
  1. mlooi{at}bmj.com

The SAGE adviser and Wellcome Trust director tells Mun-Keat Looi how the UK government acted too slowly against the pandemic, about the perils of vaccine nationalism, and why he is bullish about controlling covid variants

“Once the UK has vaccinated our most vulnerable communities and healthcare workers we should make vaccines available to other countries,” insists the infectious disease expert Jeremy Farrar. This could avert further public health and economic disaster, he says, describing it as “enlightened self-interest, as well as the right ethical thing to do.”

In April 2020, soon after the first UK lockdown began, Farrar predicted that the UK would have one of the worst covid-19 death rates in Europe. As a member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) and the UK Vaccine Taskforce, he has criticised the UK government’s covid-19 response for being too slow and too weak. He’s positive about the current pace of vaccine deployment in the UK, however. “I personally would much rather vaccinate vulnerable people and healthcare workers elsewhere in the world than have the vaccine myself,” he tells The BMJ.

Farrar also helps oversee the Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator—a global collaboration led by the World Health Organization, Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, aiming to promote equitable access to new diagnostics, therapeutics, and vaccines (including the global Covax initiative).

Since 2013 he has led the Wellcome Trust, with its £1bn (€1.15bn; $1.38bn) annual grant for global health research. Once an Oxford professor, he lived abroad for much of his life, including 18 years in Vietnam leading clinical research at Ho Chi Minh City’s Hospital for Tropical Diseases. His work has focused on HIV, SARS, bird flu, and dengue fever outbreaks.

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