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Covid-19 Vaccine

Volume 676: debated on Monday 11 May 2020

What diplomatic steps the Government are taking to support the development of a covid-19 vaccine (a) in the UK and (b) throughout the world. (902375)

What diplomatic steps the Government are taking to support the development of a covid-19 vaccine (a) in the UK and (b) throughout the world. (902377)

What diplomatic steps the Government are taking to support the development of a covid-19 vaccine (a) in the UK and (b) throughout the world. (902380)

The UK is playing a leading role in supporting global research and development efforts to find a vaccine, with vaccine trials commenced in this country, and the UK leading internationally to find and distribute vaccines abroad.

The Prime Minister acknowledged that, although there is an international race to find a vaccine, it is not a competition, and a breakthrough could come anywhere around the world, although one of the first likely candidates is the Oxford project. If the project is successful, that vaccine will be manufactured by a consortium including Cobra Biologics in my constituency of Newcastle-under-Lyme, but I know that it is keen to produce enough not just for the UK, but to send around the world, especially to the many countries with no manufacturing capacity of their own. Could my right hon. Friend reassure me that we are coming to reciprocal understandings with other nations around the world to ensure that any vaccine, wherever it is produced, both reaches the UK swiftly and is made available on an international basis as soon as possible?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We want to spearhead the pursuit of a vaccine through the research that has been conducted in this country—and, if possible, manufacture it at the kind of scale that would deal not just with UK needs, but with those more broadly. Through the contributions that we are making to the Coronavirus Global Response Initiative, to CEPI and to the Gavi funding calls, we are the leading donor in the latest call for donations to ensure not only that we can provide vaccines for UK nationals here at home, but that those vaccines can be expanded, particularly to the most vulnerable countries abroad.

May I thank my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary for his personal intervention, after a text to the Moroccan authorities at 11 o’clock at night led one of my constituents to return home to Morecambe? Does he agree that keeping commercial routes into the UK open is critical to ensuring that British nationals can continue to return home? These routes have been a vital connection for many of my constituents who were stuck abroad.

I thank my hon. Friend for his tenacity and for raising the case of his constituents so swiftly. I am delighted and relieved that they have been able to get home. On his broader point, he is absolutely right. Yes, the charter flights are important—we have got more than 30,000 British nationals back on those flights—but we have had to work very hard to keep the airports and particularly the transit hubs open. As a result, we have managed to secure the return, safe and sound, of more than 1.3 million UK nationals on vital commercial flights.

Thank you, Mr Speaker. Thanks in part to our leadership and our work with international partners on the Gavi programmes, we are in a leading position to collaborate on developing and manufacturing vaccines. Does my right hon. Friend agree that we need to take the same collaborative approach to developing and, crucially, manufacturing a vaccine to tackle covid-19?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We are proud to be pioneering trials in this country to crack the issue of finding a vaccine. Of course, we need to leverage the manufacturing base we have here and our incredible pharmaceutical sector. We are proud that we co-hosted the coronavirus global response initiative on 4 May, and we will host the global vaccine summit on 4 June. On CEPI and Gavi, as I said, we are the largest donor to the recent calls for funding, and we will continue that international collaboration, which is so vital.

The UK’s participation in the international pledging conference was extremely welcome, but it is deeply concerning that the USA was notable by its absence. Without US participation, the search for a vaccine will undeniably be slower and more lives will be lost, so can the Foreign Secretary reassure us that he or the Prime Minister asked the United States to attend? What was its reason for turning us down? What realistically does he think the UK can do to turn this situation around before not just the Gavi summit that he mentioned but the crunch G7 leaders summit in June?

The shadow Foreign Secretary raises an excellent point. This is a moment when we need to try to reduce political tensions and work collaboratively right across the world. On returns, I work with my Cuban opposite number, my Chinese opposite number and Foreign Ministers from around the world, and when it comes to finding the vaccine there is an even stronger impetus. We will keep making the case in the G7 and bilaterally, with the Americans and all the major countries, to try to get really strong international leadership, and of course we will continue to try to ensure that the coalition is as broad and deep as possible.

We are unable to connect Tom Tugendhat, so I call Minister James Duddridge to answer the substantive question tabled by Ruth Jones.