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Covid-19 Vaccine

Volume 678: debated on Tuesday 30 June 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. (904014)

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. (904032)

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. (904035)

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. (904042)

Finding a covid-19 vaccine is a top priority for the Government. The Prime Minister has set up a vaccine taskforce and appointed Kate Bingham to lead it. The taskforce aims to secure access to promising vaccines for the UK population and to support access to vaccines to help bring the pandemic to an end. We have invested more than £130 million in research for the vaccine front-runners at the University of Oxford and Imperial College, London, and this is in addition to the £250 million that we have contributed to the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations and the £1.65 billion to Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance.

I thank the Minister for her answer. Does she agree that central to the development of a vaccine is ensuring equitable access for all, particularly for those countries whose health systems are most fragile?

That is a really important point. The Prime Minister has made it clear that equitable access is an integral part of the UK’s approach to vaccine development and distribution. Only last weekend, he emphasised how all the world’s leaders have a moral duty to ensure that covid-19 vaccines are truly available to all. That is why the UK has contributed more than £313 million of UK aid to CEPI, the COVID-19 Therapeutics Accelerator, the Access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator, and the Foundation for Innovative New Diagnostics. We have also committed £1.65 billion to Gavi over five years to strengthen immunisation for vaccine preventable disease in vulnerable countries.

Around the world, there are more than 100 programmes to develop a coronavirus vaccine. Can my hon. Friend confirm that our global diplomatic presence is assisting UK companies and universities to participate in those programmes, basically by using their local networks to highlight the significant expertise that the UK can contribute, but also vice versa to identify where those contacts can contribute to UK-based programmes, because this is truly a global effort?

Yes, our overseas network is working actively around the globe, particularly through our world-leading science and innovation network. The Vaccine Taskforce is also ensuring that work being done to find a vaccine in the UK complements and supports global efforts, including by providing industry and research institutions with resources and support. We welcome the announcement on 4 June of the innovative collaborations between AstraZeneca, CEPI, Gavi and the Serum Institute of India to support the production of 1.3 billion doses for global access to a potential covid-19 vaccine.

Israel is at the forefront of MedTech innovation, which presents many opportunities for the UK’s healthcare system, such as the use of AI technology in diagnostics and screening. Can my hon. Friend tell me what the Government’s plans are to strengthen partnerships between Israeli MedTech companies and UK researchers, particularly in the north-west, to help them not only develop a vaccine but better prepare for the potentiality of any future pandemic?

International collaboration is absolutely vital as we search for a vaccine, and finding a vaccine for covid-19 is a top priority for the Government. The Prime Minister has made it clear that we see vaccines as a global challenge and that no one country can do this alone. That is why the UK has called for clear global commitments from international partners to tackle the pandemic, including through the G7, the G20 and other international forums. The Prime Minister hosted a global vaccine summit on 4 June, which brought together more than 60 countries, including 44 Heads of State and Government, and raised an incredible $8.8 billion to support immunisation of more than 300 million children against vaccine preventable diseases.

Does my hon. Friend agree that Britain has demonstrated its global reach during this pandemic? May I thank the Department for listening to my representations on behalf of my constituents in Stoke-on-Trent Central, who were repatriated from Kathmandu and Durban during lockdown, and ask that the Department use the same global reach to ensure that our world- class vaccine development work benefits the global community?

I know how hard my hon. Friend works in her Stoke-on-Trent Central constituency. Together, the Foreign Secretary, the ministerial team and the diplomatic network continue to galvanise international support and financial commitments to support research, development and equitable access to vaccines. Through ongoing research at Oxford University and Imperial College, London, the UK is leading the way in developing a coronavirus vaccine. We are also working with international partners to ensure that, wherever a vaccine is discovered, it will benefit the global community as a whole.

Mr Speaker,

“The breadth of the work that DFID is involved in is exemplary…It is firmly in our national interest…As we have seen in recent years with the Ebola crisis”.—[Official Report, 13 June 2016; Vol. 611, c. 262.]

Those are not my words, but those of the Minister. Destabilising Britain’s efforts to tackle disease globally in the middle of a pandemic is not diplomatic; it is dangerous, and the hostile takeover by the Foreign Secretary has been slammed by 200 leading health and humanitarian agencies, Prime Ministers and MPs from both sides of the House, and those who have assessed the impact of mergers in Australia and Canada. Why does she think she got it wrong, they all got it wrong, and instead, it is Dominic Cummings who is right?

I thank my hon. Friend for his question. We served together on the International Development Committee several years ago, but to be absolutely clear, when it comes to the FCO and DFID merger, as the Prime Minister set out on 16 June we retain our commitment to spending 0.7 % of our gross national income on official development assistance, but it is through closer integration that we will maximise the impact of our aid budget. At the recent Gavi event—the global vaccine summit on 4 June—we mobilised the collective influence of diplomacy and development; it is an excellent example of what the two Departments working together can we achieve.