Firstly I want to highlight that I firmly believe that vaccines are the most effective public health intervention against COVID-19 – both to protect people against the virus and to enable restrictions to be lifted – I recognise that some people are vaccine-hesitant. Some people might simply not want to have it and others may have concerns about safety.
We are at an important moment in the pandemic: cases remain high here at home and the NHS is working hard to recover. We must continue efforts to break transmission chains and shut down opportunities for the virus to replicate.
I also firmly believe that we have a duty to look beyond our borders and I absolutely agree that the UK Government should be working with its international partners to deliver COVID-19 vaccines and upscale manufacturing as quickly as possible so that the whole world can be vaccinated.
As you say, this is the fastest and most effective way of putting the pandemic behind us. Without global vaccine coverage, this virus will continue to boomerang, bringing more variants and more deaths, as has been seen with Omicron.
I am particularly concerned that, under this Government the UK has lagged behind the EU, the US, France, Germany, Italy and Canada in the number of doses donated to low and middle-income countries. It is shocking that of the 30 million doses that the UK pledged to donate last year, only a third had been delivered by November 2021.
UK Ministers must do better and give donee countries adequate notice, with transparent and ambitious timelines, as well as a good level of shelf life on vaccine doses when they arrive.
In my view, intellectual property on COVID-19 vaccines should also be waved so that they can be manufactured and distributed faster than they are at present. As you know, India and South Africa proposed a waiver to parts of the Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) Agreement at the World Trade Organisation (WTO) in October 2020. This waiver would have removed certain sections of IP rights regarding the prevention, containment or treatment of COVID-19 throughout the pandemic.
Regrettably, the UK Government does not support the proposed waiver and has said that intellectual property rights provide incentives to create new vaccines. The UK has also not joined the COVID-19 Technology Access Pool (C-TAP), which seeks to create a global pooling mechanism for knowledge, research and rights in COVID-19 related technologies.
Genuinely equitable access to vaccines for vulnerable people around the world is crucial. I will continue to press for a comprehensive international agreement that replicates the speed, scale and success of the UK vaccination programmes in every country in the world.