Dr Philippa Whitford MP
Chair, APPG on Vaccinations for All
MP for Central Ayrshire
Lower income countries are in desperate need of access to life saving vaccines, but with cuts to the overseas aid budget, the hoarding of vaccines and broken promises, millions of lives are being threatened.
The eradication of smallpox and near eradication of wild polio are testament to the efficacy of vaccines in protecting us from life-changing or fatal diseases. Their importance has been amplified with the spread of COVID-19.
Lower income countries are in desperate need of access to life saving vaccines.
The success of the COVID vaccine roll out
In late 2020, the UK’s Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) gave the green light to the use of the Pfizer and AstraZeneca vaccines. The health services of the four UK nations subsequently rolled out the vaccines at an incredible pace and achieved very high coverage, a scientific and logistical endeavour that deserves high praise.
Lack of access for lower income countries
Last spring, as the warm words emanating from the international community combined with the billions invested by governments into vaccine R&D, hopes were high that the COVID-19 pandemic would inspire an equitable global response. High international vaccine coverage was rightly determined to be key in ending the pandemic.
However, the successful vaccine rollout in the UK contrasts with a lack of access for lower income countries, where only 2% of the population have been vaccinated. Expressions of solidarity have been undermined by rich countries, including the UK, hoarding vaccines and failing to fulfil their promises to donate excess doses. Shockingly, only 6% of the 80 million doses promised by the UK, through the WHO’s COVAX mechanism, have been distributed so far.
Although dose sharing is necessary, it is also vital to expand overall global production if we are to vaccinate the world’s population and limit the pandemic. Unfortunately, the UK is among the countries limiting the sharing of intellectual property and technology which would allow manufacturing to be significantly scaled up.
A call for action
While the UK and other wealthy countries enjoy access to life saving vaccines, both for COVID-19 and other vaccine-preventable diseases such as polio and tetanus, the lack of sustainable access in many low-income countries puts millions of lives at risk. The UK has consistently championed the improvement of health globally through vaccination, but the ongoing cuts to the overseas aid budget, such as the 95% cut to polio-eradication funding, are undermining that reputation.
The failure of the international community to ensure equitable dose sharing and massive expansion of production will result in the COVID-19 virus continuing to circulate in unvaccinated populations. Our actions directly threaten the lives of millions of people and risk the emergence of further vaccine-resistant variants.