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Covid-19: Vaccinations Administered Abroad

Volume 815: debated on Wednesday 27 October 2021


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government when COVID-19 vaccinations administered abroad will be recorded on the NHS app.

My Lords, a pilot was launched in England on 30 September for residents vaccinated abroad who request that their vaccines are uploaded to the national database. Vaccines equivalent to those that are UK-approved—those regulated by the FDA, EMA or Swissmedic—can generate an NHS Covid pass, currently AstraZeneca, Pfizer, Moderna or Janssen in the US, EU, EEA and Switzerland. So far, 53 individuals have had their records updated, covering 22 countries. Vaccination centres have been quick to adapt and users so far are happy with the resolution.

My Lords, the Government say how important it is for eligible people to have their Covid booster jab, but those vaccinated overseas are not being called forward for their boosters because their initial vaccinations are not recorded on NHS systems. When will the Government fulfil the promise made by the then Vaccines Minister in the other place in July that this problem would be fixed by August, and how can those vaccinated overseas get their booster jabs?

What we have done is look at a wide range of vaccines that are being administered worldwide and look into how we understand the vaccines that have not yet been approved by the MHRA. We are requesting trial data, for example. Only a couple of days ago, I was in a meeting with a Chilean Minister who was asking me about Sinovac, which was very important. It was very helpful that they were sharing data with the MHRA so that it could make a decision as quickly as possible.

My Lords, on a recent visit to France, I found that it was very easy to transfer my English record of vaccinations to the French anti-Covid app, which I then used when going into restaurants and public buildings. This system worked well for residents and tourists alike. Yet, according to the Government’s own website, the English Covid app cannot generally even import the records from Scotland, never mind other countries. What discussions are the Government having across the UK and internationally to ensure that the pilot that he mentioned is rolled out properly and that we have a fully effective system in the future?

The noble Baroness raises a very important issue about the devolved Administrations. As the noble Baroness will know, health is a devolved matter; we are keeping the devolved Administrations informed of progress on the overseas vaccination solution and they are looking to set up similar processes within their own jurisdictions. A Northern Ireland service has just launched. Bidirectional data flows have also been set up by NHS Digital for those who have been vaccinated cross-border between England, Scotland, Wales and the Isle of Man. Bidirectional data flows between England and Northern Ireland will be live soon.

My Lords, in July, the Minister’s predecessor, the noble Lord, Lord Bethell, told your Lordships’ House that the problem with registering Covid vaccines—whether it was UK residents jabbed abroad or those who had taken part in clinical trials—would be resolved by August, in time for the holidays. A further problem is that the app still cannot tell the difference between a third dose and a booster dose. That is important because third-dose people need a further booster dose. To hear that only 53 people have now got their records on an app is appalling. What are the Government going to do about this mess?

One of the reasons for the delay has been the wide range of vaccinations that have been administered worldwide. MHRA is working to make sure that it is confident about recognising them in a Covid pass. There is also a range of issues relating to anti-fraud measures that have to be put in place to maintain the integrity of a Covid pass service. The multi-organisation approach that has been adopted has ensured a high-quality service. NHS England has engaged vaccination centres, provided training and enhanced the vaccine data resolution service capability. NHS Digital has updated the API to allow overseas vaccinations to flow from the vaccine database—the so-called national immunisation management system—to the Covid pass. Also, NHSX has built the certification rules to enable overseas vaccinations in the Covid pass.

My Lords, another group of people who are not having their jabs recognised are the public-spirited people who took part in the Novavax clinical trial. Novavax has said that it cannot guarantee that having a Pfizer booster is safe for those in their trial, because it has not trialled it. Yet, the Government are now saying that they can have the booster—or they can start all over again and have one of the other jabs. Why?

One of the difficult issues we face is pushing international partners to agree that the participants of well-regulated vaccine clinical trials should be treated as fully vaccinated. Only a couple of weeks ago I was on a call with G7 health and transport Ministers, trying to push them to ensure that they recognise those very brave people who came forward for vaccine trials. So far, sadly, we have not had much success. We continue to push them, but, in the meantime, we have found the solution of giving people another vaccine in order for them to be recognised. However, we would prefer international recognition.

I think the Minister needs to simplify this for the House—it is a very simple issue. If it is possible to register in France that you have been double vaccinated through its systems, why is it not possible to do that in the UK? While the JCVI may be working to fix the issue for UK residents who have been double jabbed abroad, British entry regulations have left foreign visitors in limbo. So, although two doses of Covid vaccine administered by a UK-approved regulator is enough to enter Britain without having to self-isolate, it does not seem to be enough to avoid being pinged by what has now been exposed as our expensive and not very effective test and trace system. Does the Minister agree that this does not make sense, and can he confirm that the JCVI review will also aim to resolve this?

As I said, we are looking to resolve as many of these issues as possible. There is no logical reason for this not to happen—it is just that we have to push international acceptance but also make sure that we have gone through the processes, especially for those vaccines not recognised by the MHRA.

My Lords, further to the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Quin, about Scotland, does the Minister realise that there has been a huge amount of buck passing between the Northern Ireland authorities and the English authorities about people who are temporarily working in England who have a vaccination and then try desperately to get the Covid pass when they go back? It is really not acceptable. Will he give an assurance now that anyone from any part of the United Kingdom who has been double vaccinated will be able to get a Covid pass, no matter where they got that original vaccination?

The Covid pass can be accessed via the NHS app, but, where that is not possible, patients are able to go to the NHS website or to call 119 to get a letter version.

I remind the House of my interest as a member of the Army Reserve. Many serving personnel and their families have been vaccinated overseas, either by defence medical services or local practitioners, and they too have had a challenge getting their vaccines on to the NHS app. Equally, in reverse, many serving reservists here in the United Kingdom have been unable to get their vaccinations on to JPA—the MoD administration system —meaning that there is a potential delay in their deployment. Since this is not an international problem but a national one between two government departments, can my noble friend simply use his good influences to sort it out?

I thank my noble friend for making me aware of that issue; I was not aware of it. On the availability of the Covid pass, I repeat that the NHS Covid pass is available online and via NHS.UK, provided that individuals already have an NHS login. Users can then access it from anywhere in the world and download a Covid pass PDF. Individuals need to be in the UK to download the NHS app, but, once it is downloaded, it can be accessed worldwide. In terms of the conversations between the Department of Health and Social Care and the Ministry of Defence, I will make sure that I do that, and I will write to my noble friend.

Following on from the question from the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, if you are double jabbed in England and test and trace tells you that you have been in contact with someone who has tested positive, you can get a test and, if it is negative, carry on regardless. If you have been double jabbed abroad, you cannot—you have to self-isolate for 10 days. So these people are restricting their social contact with others in case they have to self-isolate. Why can the two categories not be treated equally?

The noble Lord makes a very fair point. This is what we are trying to achieve, but we have to work through the trials and the data to make sure that we can do it as soon as possible.