The UK will focus on inoculating its entire adult population before sharing Covid-19 vaccine doses with other countries, Business Minister Kwasi Kwarteng said on Tuesday.
More than 30 million people in Britain have received their first dose of a Covid-19 vaccine in the fastest inoculation campaign in Europe.
The government is aiming to offer it to all adults by the end of July.
However, Britain is involved in a public spat with the EU, whose vaccination programme has been much slower.
The EU threatened to block exports of doses made on the continent based on rates of inoculation in the destination country.
The UK government on Monday announced 60 million doses of the Novavax Covid-19 vaccine would be manufactured in north-east England.
But Mr Kwarteng said the country would focus on its own population before exporting doses.
“I think our focus has to be to try to keep Britain safe. We want to work co-operatively as well with other countries but the main priority is to get the vaccine roll-out,” he told Sky News.
He denied that there was a competition with other countries, insisting the UK was working with Europeans to try to ensure their populations were vaccinated.
Asked if Britain could help its neighbour Ireland, Mr Kwarteng said any surplus vaccines could be shared. “But there is no surplus at the moment,” he said. “We’ve still got a huge number to vaccinate.”
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson is one of 23 leaders who on Tuesday backed an idea to create an international treaty to help the world to work together during health emergencies.
The group said the Covid-19 crisis exposed the world’s “weaknesses and divisions”, warning that another pandemic was a matter of “not if, but when”.
Mr Kwarteng stressed that the intention was to create a pact to deal with future pandemics – not the current one.
“Today, we’ve got a crisis upon us, and it’s absolutely right that we should be focused on trying to deal with that in our own country and keeping our people safe, so that we can get back to a normal way of life,” he said.