A Government source said: “We have to strike a balance here. If another country is first to develop the vaccine we would want to make sure it goes to the countries that need it most, including the UK. So it’s difficult to argue for that whilst also arguing that a British vaccine should be for British people regardless of worldwide need.”

Chris Whitty, the chief medical officer, has said the question of who should be first to get a British-made vaccine is “not a straightforward position”.

He said: “The UK is going to want to get, as fast as we possibly can, access to any effective vaccine, whether it’s developed in the UK or developed somewhere else. We support this directly in the UK and indirectly elsewhere through other routes.”

His comments were in keeping with the scientific community worldwide, which regards the development of a vaccine as an international effort, the rewards of which should be based on need rather than geography or politics.

A Downing Street spokesman said Britain was funding UK vaccination programmes and also “making sure we have the capacity to produce them in the UK so anyone in the UK who needed one could get them as quickly as possible”.

But Number 10 has refused to say whether British taxpayers will be given a British-developed vaccine first.

Michael Ryan, the head of the World Health Organisation Emergencies Programme, said there must be “fair and equitable access for everybody” if a vaccine is successfully developed, regardless of where it is produced.

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