With the Health Secretary’s announcement today, there will rightly be a lot of focus on the spread of covid-19 in the UK and the questions it raises about the effectiveness of the Government’s tier system, as my hon. Friend Emma Hardy pointed out powerfully. However, I want to use the debate to raise the impact of covid-19 across the world. Last week, the People’s Vaccine Alliance—a collection of organisations including Oxfam, Global Justice Now and Amnesty International—called for the pharmaceutical companies that are developing covid-19 vaccines to share their information and to waive their intellectual property rights to all vaccines, tests and treatments until the threat of the virus has abated. To do so would massively increase the global supply of vaccine doses and save countless lives. Now is not the time to put profit before people, and I would like to make clear my support for this proposal.
Through an analysis of data collected by Airfinity, the People’s Vaccine Alliance has highlighted the dangers that an unequitable distribution of coronavirus vaccine poses. Its work has revealed that 67 of the world’s poorest countries will be able to vaccinate only one in 10 of their population. In contrast, wealthier countries have acquired enough doses to vaccinate their population three times over, while Canada could potentially vaccinate its population of five times over. All in all, the most well-off states that make up just 14% of the world’s population have bought 53% of the doses of vaccines most likely to be successful. It is so disheartening, and arguably dangerous, that 96% of Pfizer’s doses have been acquired by wealthy nations. While it is welcome that 64% of the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine has been made available to developing nations, it will still only be enough for 18% of the world’s population. This is clearly not right.
Covid-19 has, sadly, shone a spotlight on the susceptibility to ill health of those in the most deprived communities, as well as the disproportionate impact of coronavirus on the world’s poorest. In the UK, those in our most deprived communities have been about twice as likely to die as those in the least deprived. With this in mind, it cannot be right that the wealthiest countries have enough doses to vaccinate more than their entire population while the most impoverished nations are unable even to vaccinate their healthcare workers and their most vulnerable. In times of crisis, it is easy to panic and to look after our own, but the reactionary response is rarely the best one. In the UK, we are no more deserving of the lifeline that a vaccine offers than any other nation. In order to uphold our human rights obligations, we must ensure that there is equal access to vaccines across the world. However, an equal sharing of vaccine resources is not just morally correct, it is also beneficial to the UK. As the director of Frontline AIDS said:
“This pandemic is a global problem that requires a global solution. The global economy will continue to suffer so long as much of the world does not have access to a vaccine.”
As a country, we cannot look to end this crisis simply by eliminating the virus within our own borders, because for as long as it exists, public health will be at risk and economies will be weakened.
I remind this House of our obligation, as a wealthy country, to the rest of the world. I urge nations from around the world to reject the pull of vaccine nationalism and to consider the world’s most vulnerable. To those who say, “We must put British interests first”, I say that beating this virus and reducing global poverty is a British interest. We must remember that when it comes to covid-19, none of us are safe until all of us are safe.