It is a real honour to speak after my hon. Friend Bill Grant and Jim Shannon, and especially after the fine opening speech from my right hon. Friend Stephen Crabb. With my speech we have all four nations of the United Kingdom in a row, which is great because that shows how important it is for our country to support vaccination around the world.
In 1853, this House passed the compulsory Vaccination Act against smallpox, which was a great step forward, but that was 50 years after it could have happened. If we look at the literature of the first decade of the 19th century, we find references to the use of the vaccine in England and Australia. I know that for a fact because in the letters of a relative of mine, Mrs Lefroy, the wife of the Reverend Lefroy, who was the next-door neighbour of the Reverend Austen, the father of Jane Austen, we find that she was in correspondence with Dr Jenner as early as 1800. Her obituary in the Reading Mercury in 1804 stated:
“When the vaccine inoculation was discovered, she soon convinced herself of its beneficial effects, and having learned the process, actually inoculated upwards of 800 people with her own hand.”
So there is an instance of how something was available in 1804, yet it was not until 1853 that the House made vaccination compulsory. How many lives could have been saved had it been compulsory for 40 or 50 years before that? That is why there is no excuse not to make vaccinations available, when they have been tested and proven to be efficacious and safe, as soon as possible.
As chair of the all-party group on malaria and neglected tropical diseases, I will restrict myself to the introduction of the first malaria vaccine, RTS,S, which has been developed by GSK in partnership with many others—GAVI and PATH—with huge support from the British and US Governments and many others. It is now being piloted in three countries in Africa and we are already seeing the impact. It is not a perfect vaccine. There will be considerable improvements, but it ensures that children—it is particularly for children—have more chance when inoculated.
Combined with impregnated bed nets and, if the disease is contracted, with better medicines than we had 20 years ago, the vaccine will give children much more chance of survival. That is clear evidence of something of huge benefit to the children in the developing world in countries where malaria is still endemic. Let us not forget that it still kills 450,000 a year, most of them children. The highest prevalence is in Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the countries of east Africa as well as many other countries around the world.
I conclude by saying that investment in vaccination, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Preseli Pembrokeshire has said, has an enormous return: I think he said $45 per $1 invested; that is the kind of figure that I have seen. We will not go wrong if we continue to back investment in vaccines for diseases that affect the poorest, just as Dr Jenner did not go wrong in promoting his vaccine, even though it took this House 50 years to ensure it was available to everybody.