Covid-19 Vaccines: Low-income Countries

Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office – in the House of Commons on 30th November 2021.

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Photo of Kate Osamor Kate Osamor Labour/Co-operative, Edmonton

What recent steps her Department has taken to help ensure the equal distribution of covid-19 vaccines among low-income countries.

Photo of Vicky Ford Vicky Ford Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

The UK is committed to ensuring that people in the poorest countries receive vaccines. We were a leader in setting up the international COVAX facility, which is providing equitable access for 92 lower and middle-income countries, and we champion equitable access through our G7 presidency. Our commitment of £548 million makes us one of COVAX’s largest donors. COVAX has delivered more than 475 million vaccine doses to the poorest countries, and that figure will rise to 1.8 billion by mid-2022.

Photo of Kate Osamor Kate Osamor Labour/Co-operative, Edmonton

The shockingly low vaccination rates in low-income countries should shame the global north, and made the omicron variant all but inevitable. The Government have been quick to impose travel restrictions on southern African countries, but where was the urgency when it came to ensuring that people on the African continent were vaccinated? My question to the Minister is this: is it not time for the Government to drop their opposition to the intellectual property waiver on covid-19 vaccines, of which South Africa was one of the key supporters, and to provide whatever vaccine capacity and technical support they can offer to speed up the roll-out?

Photo of Vicky Ford Vicky Ford Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

We are fully committed to doing all that we can to get vaccines out to poorer countries, but when it comes to delivery, there are three different issues. The first is supply, the second is the need to ensure that the local health services are able to deliver the vaccine, and the third is, sadly, the very serious issue of vaccine hesitancy in many countries. COVAX did experience severe challenges in obtaining vaccine supplies owing to export bans, but supplies are now increasing. We in the UK have already delivered 16.1 million doses through COVAX, an additional 9 million AstraZeneca doses will be sent out in the coming weeks, and, most recently, we delivered 5.2 million doses to the Philippines last Saturday.

The UK is engaging intensively and constructively in the trade-related intellectual property rights—TRIPS—waiver debate, but in the meantime we must continue to push ahead with pragmatic action. For example, we have sent UK emergency medical teams to 11 African countries, where they are providing training and advice for health workers in respect of issues including vaccine confidence.

Photo of Preet Kaur Gill Preet Kaur Gill Shadow Secretary of State for International Development

I am pleased that Labour has recognised that International Development must remain a Cabinet role, and it is an honour to be able to continue our work to tackle poverty and inequality around the world.

The UK has blocked international agreements to increase the supply of vaccines, has only donated a fraction of the promised doses to low-income countries, and continues to stockpile doses. As a result, hundreds of thousands of doses have expired and have been destroyed, including 600,000 in August alone. In addition, the Government slashed the aid budget for programmes tracking new covid variants. Labour Members warned of this repeatedly, knowing that the virus would continue to mutate unchecked.

Can the Minister tell the House how many surplus vaccines the UK will have by the end of 2021, and why the Government have repeatedly refused to speed up the process of donation to other countries? Will she ensure that we airlift those vaccines immediately?

Photo of Vicky Ford Vicky Ford Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

Not only did we set up COVAX, but we are one of its largest donors. We have committed ourselves to donating 100 million doses, and that is part of the G7 commitment to sharing 870 million by 2022. Furthermore, we are helping many countries to set up their own vaccine manufacturing. Last Thursday I visited the Institut Pasteur de Dakar in Senegal, which, thanks to help from the UK with the delivery of a business plan, now has the necessary investment to ensure that it will be one of the first manufacturers of covid vaccines in Africa.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch

A small proportion of those who are vaccinated against covid-19 suffer adverse reactions. Can my hon. Friend explain why, under the COVAX compensation scheme, we give more generous compensation—paid for by our taxpayers—to citizens in foreign countries than we give to our own citizens who suffer adverse consequences from the covid-19 vaccine?

Photo of Vicky Ford Vicky Ford Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

I thank my hon. Friend for his question, but I think it is a question for Department of Health and Social Care Ministers. I will ensure that he gets an answer.