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Covid-19: Vaccination Programme

Volume 819: debated on Tuesday 22 February 2022


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what financial support they will provide to the global Covid-19 vaccination programme in 2022; and how many vaccine doses the United Kingdom has donated to date.

My Lords, the UK has committed up to £1.4 billion to help end the Covid-19 pandemic and address its impacts. This includes funding for COVAX, which has now delivered more than 1 billion vaccines worldwide. We are working with partners on how to finance Covid-19 vaccines more sustainably for 2022 and beyond. To date, the UK has donated 32.2 million doses; 29.5 million have been delivered to recipient countries. COVAX is in the process of allocating and delivering the remaining 2.6 million doses.

I thank the Minister for his detailed response, but we are way behind the WHO’s target of vaccinating 70% of the world by September. Just 6% of people across low-income countries are fully vaccinated, while 3 billion people have not received a single dose. Last month, the Prime Minister was warned by 300 leading scientists that wealthy countries were pursuing

“a reckless approach to public health”.

Will the Government step up and further commit to the UK’s £1 billion fair-share contribution towards the urgent $23 billion funding needs of the Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator, and help to address this moral and economic dereliction of duty?

My Lords, the UK is in total agreement with the noble Lord that vaccine inequity is shocking. We are committed to supporting global vaccination and equitable access in the poorest countries. That is why we used our G7 presidency in 2021 to push for more commitments and continue to play a leading role with COVAX and other partners in strengthening procurement and delivery efforts with partner Governments. We have delivered £548 million to COVAX’s advance market commitment, which will help to deliver up to 1.8 billion doses for developing countries in 2022. To date, more than 1.19 billion vaccines have been delivered globally through COVAX to 144 participants, including 1 billion doses to almost all of the AMC-eligible countries. Some 86 of those countries are eligible, and 44 of them are in Africa.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that it is unacceptable that, through mismanagement, this Government allowed more than 500,000 vaccines that could have gone to developing countries to be destroyed? Given that the UK has the expertise, technology, resources and production capacity to vaccinate the whole world, why is the vaccination gulf between us and the global south so great?

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for her question, which relates to shelf life. Decisions on donation are driven by the availability of vaccines from domestic supply. Once the Health Secretary is confident that vaccines are available to donate, the Foreign Secretary prioritises how they are shared. Avoiding vaccine expiry and the wastage of vaccines is a UK core objective, determining when and where we share and deploy our doses. For all bilateral donations, we have sought assurances that recipients have the capacity to roll out the quantity of doses in line with the national vaccination programmes ahead of their expiry date. Vaccines delivered by COVAX are delivered in consultation with countries and distributed in line with the WHO’s equitable allocation framework.

My Lords, the price point of how we declare our donated vaccines as overseas development assistance matters here, and the Centre for Global Development has a robust calculation showing that the average price the UK has paid is $4.40. This is less than the OECD’s DAC ODA amount of $6.72, but we can indeed charge what we pay for them. Can my noble friend the Minister reassure me that the Government will not make any profit from the vaccines that we donate, which were, of course, originally bought for the UK? Charging poorer countries more than we paid for these vaccines not only is morally wrong but will reduce our international development spending further.

I thank my noble friend for her question. She is right: the OECD’s Development Assistance Committee secretariat has now provided guidance for reporting donations of excess Covid-19 vaccine doses in 2021 in ODA. The UK is considering this guidance together with our other commitments and obligations and is actively engaging with the Development Assistance Committee secretariat on valuing Covid-19 vaccines in ODA assistance in 2021. The DAC secretariat will review its methodology for donations in 2022, and all donations to date have been to ODA-eligible countries.

My Lords, what consideration have the Government given to the possibility of offering tax incentives or financial aid for companies from the United Kingdom which might set up manufacturing plants in overseas countries so that they can help directly in those areas?

My Lords, I am not familiar with the tax incentives that may have been offered, but we have provided technical support to develop business cases for, for example, Biovac to manufacture vaccines in South Africa, the Institut Pasteur in Dakar, Senegal, and to the Moroccan Government. The technical support helped to catalyse investment that will see Covid-19 vaccines produced on the African continent in 2022. We also welcome the work of the COVAX supply chain and manufacturing task force, which brings together partners to identify immediate and longer-term actions to increase the volume and security of global vaccine supply.

My Lords, this March the UK is hosting the pandemic preparedness summit, at which CEPI, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, is aiming to raise $3.5 billion for its 2022-26 strategic period. Will the UK Government take this opportunity to commit £300 million and act as a diplomatic leader to ensure that CEPI has the resources it needs to continue its crucial work?

The noble Baroness is quite right: the UK is hosting the global pandemic preparedness summit on 8 March this year, and that will raise funds to achieve CEPI’s goal to develop vaccines against new threats in 100 days and rapidly scale up regional manufacturing for affordable global supply. CEPI’s new five-year strategy aims to develop vaccines to prevent future pandemics, cutting the time it takes to develop new vaccines from 300 to 100 days. The UK is a long-term partner of CEPI and one of its biggest supporters, giving £276 million in funding since 2018. There will be a pledge of more money towards CEPI at the replenishment summit next month, but I am afraid that I do not know the number. I could go on about CEPI, but I think that is enough.

My Lords, it is reported that Nigeria will give away hundreds of thousands of doses because it is unable to deliver them, and that Iran likewise has wasted nearly a million doses because they were made in America. What steps can the Government take to make sure that the infrastructure is available and that doses will not be wasted for political reasons?

I think I have already answered the question on shelf life. I obviously cannot comment on the Iranian Government. In terms of what more the Government can do, I have already outlined a number of measures we are trying to take with regards to shelf life in particular. As I say, these decisions are taken very carefully by the Foreign Office and the health department.

My Lords, will the Minister tell us what is happening for those countries which have difficulty in getting supplies in because of conflict or non-recognition? I use the example of Somaliland, where all the supplies go through Somalia and then arrive in Somaliland only when they are out of date. There are a number of countries like this, so what action is being taken to deal with these problem areas?

My Lords, the UK is supporting the humanitarian buffer of last resort to support populations displaced by conflict in various parts of the world, including Afghanistan. Obviously, we welcome continued application of this instrument to support vulnerable populations where needed.

My Lords, yesterday the Prime Minister said in the other place:

“We will continue to support other countries in developing their own surveillance capabilities, because a new variant can emerge anywhere.”—[Official Report, Commons, 21/2/22; col. 44.]

Can the Minister detail when the Government will reinstate the overseas aid budget to 0.7% of GNI to provide that necessary capability and funding capacity to help countries in the developing world deal with new variants?

The noble Baroness is aware that I cannot say that—it is a matter for the Chancellor. But I can say this: on 30 December, the Foreign Secretary announced a £105 million emergency package to support low-income countries, particularly in Africa, to prepare for and respond to omicron. That includes scaling up testing, especially in parts of Africa where testing rates remain lowest, and it will enable health systems to track and respond more effectively to Covid-19, improving access to medical oxygen supplies, and so on.

My Lords, I am sure the Minister agrees that Her Majesty’s Government should redouble their efforts to ensure that vaccines are shared in a safe, timely and effective manner, but can he also say whether only vaccine doses that are actually used should be accounted against the ODA budget?

I am afraid I cannot say that, but the ODA budget and how we account for these things are currently being considered by the department. I am sure more information will be forth- coming very soon.