The British Government will offer 3.7 million surplus doses of the COVID-19 vaccine to Ireland, according to a report in the Sunday Times.
The move would help lift lockdown restrictions in Northern Ireland and would also increase tensions in the European Union.
Public health authorities in Northern Ireland have raised concerns about lifting lockdown restrictions in Northern Ireland due to the slower vaccination rate south of the border.
They say that lifting restrictions could spark a third wave of the virus in Northern Ireland if Irish people travel across the border once the restrictions are lifted.
As of March 24. 732,678 vaccines have been administered in Ireland with 529,984 receiving the first dose and 202,694 people receiving both doses. Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly had previously stated that 700,000 adults would be fully vaccinated by the end of March.
In contrast, more than 800,000 doses of the vaccine have been administered in Northern Ireland, which boasts a population that is less than half that of the Republic of Ireland.
The Sunday Times says that British politicians see the move as a logical step in the fight against the coronavirus.
"Everyone can see the logic of it. It’s good politics while at the same time solving a genuine public health concern in Northern Ireland," an unnamed British Cabinet source told the Sunday Times.
Roughly 55% of the adult population in the UK have received the first dose of the vaccine and everyone aged 40 or over is expected to receive their first jab by Easter on April 4.
The source told the Sunday Times that the British Government may be able to start offering excess doses to Ireland by Easter, but Prime Minister Boris Johnson recently told Taoiseach Micheál Martin that Britain would only export surplus supplies when its adult population had been protected.
Britain has not yet exported any doses of the vaccine to the European Union amid an acrimonious standoff over the supply of the AstraZeneca vaccine, but government officials believe that donating surplus doses to Ireland would be a "poke in the eye for Brussels". They believe that the move could raise tensions and disrupt unity within the EU.
The EU has procured vaccines on behalf of its 27 member states but has made slower progress than the US or the UK and has faced criticism for its vaccination roll-out.
British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis, and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster Michael Gove have held outline discussions on how the plan would be implemented.
The British Government is on course to have more than 100 million surplus doses of the vaccine and has faced calls to share its excess doses with countries around the world.
The UK could export surplus vaccines to developing countries, but it also plans to export doses to countries in Europe, with Boris Johnson admitting that the third wave of the virus in Europe could hit the UK within three weeks.
Several charities penned a letter to Johnson urging him to take "accelerated action" and clarify how surplus doses will be shared.
Sir Jeremy Farrar of the health research charity Wellcome told the Prime Minister that Britain "must start sharing" its surplus doses.
"The world won’t be safe while any single country is still fighting the virus. If left to spread, it risks mutating to an extent where our vaccines and treatments no longer work. This goes beyond ethics — it’s a scientific and economic imperative," Farrar said in the letter.