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Covid-19 Vaccine Access

Volume 687: debated on Tuesday 19 January 2021

What recent steps the Government have taken to help ensure equitable access to covid-19 vaccines for people living in the global south. (910985)

What recent steps the Government have taken to help ensure equitable access to covid-19 vaccines for people living in the global south. (910989)

What recent steps the Government have taken to help ensure equitable access to covid-19 vaccines for people living in the global south. (910997)

What diplomatic steps the Government are taking to support the development and distribution of covid-19 vaccines (a) in the UK and (b) throughout the world. (910998)

What diplomatic steps the Government are taking to support the development and distribution of covid-19 vaccines (a) in the UK and (b) throughout the world. (911010)

The UK is committed to rapid equitable access to safe and effective vaccines through multilateral collaboration. We are combining our diplomatic influencing, development expertise, and money to tackle covid-19 and secure vaccines. The UK is a founding member, and one of the largest donors to the COVAX advance market commitment. We have committed £548 million to this international initiative for global equitable access, which through match funding has encouraged other donors to commit an additional $1 billion.

The world is on the brink of a “catastrophic moral failure” according to the head of the World Health Organisation. Unless there is a collaborative global approach, the pandemic and the ensuing human and economic suffering will merely be prolonged. Does the Minister therefore agree that any hoarding of vaccines by richer nations is unforgivable and unconscionable, and that we must all work collectively for the betterment of all humanity by simultaneously helping people within our nation while helping to provide for those who are less affluent than us?

The hon. Gentleman makes a really important point and I am sure that that is why he will agree with me that the COVAX AMC is such an important tool and facility for us to help developing countries. This particular facility will support access to covid-19 vaccinations for up to 92 developing countries. This will contribute to the supply of 1 billion doses in 2021 and the vaccination of 500 million people. Let me be clear, Mr Speaker: the UK is at the forefront of multilateral efforts to ensure equitable global access through the COVAX facility.

Yesterday, the director of the World Health Organisation stated that 39 million vaccine doses had been administered in 49 higher income countries, whereas in one poor country just 25 doses had been given—not 25 million, not 25,000, just 25. Does the Minister agree that global equality on the vaccine roll-out should not just be a moral imperative but a strategic one to stop the spread of the virus? If she does agree, why do her Government not support calls for pharmaceutical companies to waive intellectual property rights and openly share technology through the World Health Organisation covid technology access pool?

When it comes to vaccines, we have been very clear that we support equitable access. This is a global pandemic. This is a virus that respects no boundaries and no barriers. That is why we are working and leading the way at the forefront of multilateral efforts to ensure we get equitable access through this really important COVAX facility.

I want to press the Minister further, because none of us is safe until all of us are safe. Clearly, with the threat of the spread and the mutation of the virus we are all at risk until the world is vaccinated. Will the Minister say specifically what work her Government have done to overcome intellectual property rights to ensure the manufacture of the vaccine in the global south and ensure that those countries that currently cannot get access to the vaccine can distribute it locally?

The UK believes that a robust and fair intellectual property system is a key part of the innovation framework that allows economies to grow and become innovators, while enabling society to benefit from knowledge and ideas. We believe that non-exclusive voluntary licensing has advantages over compulsory licensing, because it creates a sounder basis for long lasting beneficial relationships and incentives to create and commercialise new inventions such as those life-changing vaccines.

I thank the Minister for her answer. What steps is her Department taking to ensure that the poorest and most disadvantaged countries have access to vaccines?

I think this goes to the heart of this particular question today. Our commitment will support access to covid-19 vaccines for up to 92 developing countries by contributing to the supply of 1 billion doses in 2021. That is only possible through the COVAX AMC facility, which we have been leading on from the front with our big commitment of £548 million to that facility and the encouragement of others to step up to the mark and reach the $1 billion target, too.

The Minister has set out how important it is for people around the world to be vaccinated against covid-19 and reminded us about the UK’s strong record of supporting vaccination in the developing world. Is she confident that we will be able to continue to meet our international commitments on vaccination if we reduce our levels of aid from 0.7% of GDP?

I know that my hon. Friend takes a keen interest in international development. The seismic impact of the pandemic on the UK economy has forced us to take tough but necessary decisions, including our temporary reduction of ODA from 0.7% to 0.5% of gross national income. We will return to that level as soon as the fiscal situation allows, but let me reassure him that we will remain a world-leading aid donor, spending that 0.5% percent of GNI. When it comes to our commitment, particularly on vaccines and vaccinations, I point to the Gavi vaccine summit, which the Prime Minister hosted in the early part of last year. At that summit the UK Government committed to £1.65 billion over the next five years to support Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance. That will immunise 300 million children and save up to 8 million lives.

I echo the concerns of colleagues across the House that vaccine nationalism is dangerous and self-defeating. This is not an Olympics; it is a global problem that we must deal with on a multilateral basis. I pay tribute to what the UK has done in donating to the COVAX system. There is still a $4.3 billion dollar shortfall to this and, as we have heard, nobody is safe until everybody is safe on a global scale. What plans are there to convene a Gavi II summit to bring international donors together to work with colleagues across the world to make sure that nobody gets left behind in this? And would she condemn colleagues in her Government who are indulging in vaccine nationalism and pretending that one country is doing better than another, when we really are facing a common challenge?

This is a global pandemic and I commend the work of the Government in the vaccination programme that we have. I look to my constituency and the tremendous work that Walsall Manor Hospital and the Oak Park centre are doing. Alongside that, let me reassure the hon. Gentleman that we are absolutely committed to equitable access. The global Gavi summit that we held earlier last year was just one example of the leading part that the UK Government are taking when it comes to the fight against the covid-19 pandemic.

The longer the pandemic rages, the more damage will be done to ordinary families around the world who are suffering from a crisis they did not create. We have an opportunity to save countless lives and livelihoods here in the UK and abroad by playing our part in co-operating with other countries and using our influence to bring them together. As we have seen during the pandemic, the Government have consistently struggled with transparency and accountability, so will the United Kingdom fulfil the ask made yesterday by the director general of the World Health Organisation and make public all bilateral contracts that they have signed for covid-19 vaccines, including on volumes, pricing and delivery dates, so that we can deal with production bottlenecks and ensure equitable access to the vaccine, giving us all the best chance of beating this deadly virus?

I do not accept the hon. Lady’s assertions when it comes to transparency. We, the UK, are absolutely at the forefront of multilateral efforts on ensuring equitable global access. If we look at what the UK Government have done, we see that we have contributed to CEPI—the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations—in the early part of this pandemic and to FIND, the Foundation for Innovative New Diagnostics. We have contributed to Gavi and to the COVAX AMC. This is all about helping the world’s poorest. We have also flexed a lot of our normal aid work to help countries that are suffering from the pandemic, because we know that, as well as the primary impact of covid-19, there are many secondary impacts.

The Minister is right that vaccines alone are not enough, and she is aware that the International Development Committee has just done an inquiry on the secondary impacts, which show that developing countries are suffering economically through their healthcare and through gender inequality. What efforts and preparations are being made by FCDO to prevent there being a development mountain to climb after the pandemic subsides?

I recognise the work of the IDC and I am very pleased that its work is continuing. Let me just reiterate that when it comes to covid-19, the UK and the FCDO remain at the forefront. With the funds that we have, we continue to support the world’s poorest, and we will continue to focus on the bottom billion. Yes, it is about working with the development world, but it is also about working, where we can, with the public sector and the private sector. I look to the example of Oxford-AstraZeneca. The UK Government invested £84 million in helping to develop that vaccine, and we are now rolling it out. We have committed to the AMC, and we are absolutely committed to helping the world’s poorest.[Official Report, 25 January 2021, Vol. 688, c. 2MC.]