India COVID disaster: Layla Moran calls for UK to begin donating vaccines through COVAX immediately

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The Liberal Democrats have written to the Prime Minister calling for the UK to begin donating vaccines through the COVAX programme immediately.

The letter, co-signed by all the party’s MPs and spearheaded by Layla Moran, echoes calls the party made to join COVAX as part of a ‘parallel rollout’ back in February. With the situation in India now worsening, the urgency of the call has intensified.

It also highlighted how aid cuts are making the global situation worse and called for a number of other proactive measures such as safely accelerating approval processes in regulatory bodies.

In the letter, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson for Foreign Affairs and International Development, Layla Moran MP said :

The UK must do its part and provide as many vaccines as possible to countries that do not have the wealth or the manufacturing capacity to acquire sufficient doses for their populations fast enough.

The UK Government still does not directly contribute vaccines to COVAX. Other countries, including Norway, have already started their parallel rollouts. This needs to change urgently. Scenes in India remind us that none of us are safe until we are all safe.

Cuts to the ODA budget this year will have dire consequences for international projects, collaborations and partnerships that are vital in our efforts to defeat the virus, including the sequencing of variants.

We urge you to act now to help save lives in India and around the world. None of us are safe from coronavirus until we all are.

Here’s the full text of the letter:

Dear Prime Minister, Foreign Secretary and Health Secretary,

We are writing to express our deep concern with the situation in India.

The world is watching in horror as we see the reports of new cases rising, hospitals being overwhelmed and the lack of lifesaving equipment. On Tuesday, India recorded 320,000 new infections – that’s 17.6 million cases in total. The death toll now stands at 197,500.

While we welcome the news that the UK Government has announced that over 600 pieces of medical equipment will be sent to India, with 200 pieces of equipment including ventilators and oxygen concentrators having already arrived, we must be proactive in our global response to coronavirus if we are ever going to put a stop to this pandemic.

This will only be a drop in the ocean compared to what’s needed. In his written statement last week, the Foreign Secretary said £1.3bn of Official Development Assistance funding has been allocated to “Covid and global health”. Can you tell us, as a matter of urgency, how much of this funding has been allocated to India, and what plans the Government has to use ODA to assist them now, in their time of greatest need? How many more ventilators and oxygen concentrators will ODA provide for developing countries in the next year?

We recognise the Government’s early efforts to support COVAX, but we reiterate the calls we made to you in February. The UK must now take a leading position in rolling out vaccines worldwide. The UK has secured at least 340 million doses of coronavirus vaccines for a population of 66 million, vaccinated over 33 million people with their first dose and 12 million with their second. 95% of those in the JCVI priority groups have been vaccinated.

Yet the UK Government still does not directly contribute vaccines to COVAX. Other countries, including Norway, have already started their parallel rollouts.

This needs to change urgently. Scenes in India remind us that none of us are safe until we are all safe.

The UK must do its part and provide as many vaccines as possible to countries that do not have the wealth or the manufacturing capacity to acquire sufficient doses for their populations fast enough. We urge you to begin parallel rollout via COVAX without delay.

Moreover, there is growing evidence that cuts to the ODA budget this year will have dire consequences for international projects, collaborations and partnerships that are vital in our efforts to defeat the virus, including the sequencing of variants. We urge you to immediately reverse any ODA funding cuts to coronavirus-related projects around the world.

We don’t need to remind you that the situation in India, and elsewhere, threatens to breed new variants of Covid-19 that could undo so much of what we have achieved here in the UK, and threaten your plans to further ease restrictions.

The UK holds the G7 presidency. Now is the time to lead, not do the bare minimum and hide behind written statements, so we further call on the UK Government to:

Take proactive measures to show leadership on the world stage in fighting coronavirus by:

-Increasing the UK contribution to COVAX and to share doses with COVAX in parallel with the national vaccine rollout;
-Sharing UK vaccine manufacturers’ knowledge with C-TAP to increase vaccine manufacturing and the global supply of vaccines for future years, and further to prioritise supply to COVAX over bilateral deals;
-Accelerating approval processes in regulatory bodies in a safe and deliberate way;
-Tasking the UK’s Department of Health and Social Care to work with the WHO and other partners to invest in and help prepare their primary healthcare systems for
-COVID-19 vaccine distribution and to assist development of data systems on vaccine supply, distribution and uptake, including sex- and age-disaggregated sub-national data, to drive delivery, equality and impact;
-Working together with governments to ensure COVID-19 vaccines are free at the point of care without risk of financial hardship, beginning with healthcare workers and the most vulnerable, prioritising affected communities and key workers’ voices in decision-making, and ensuring gender equality is central to all actions.
-Provide detail on the country-specific allocation of the £1.3bn that has been allocated to Coronavirus and global health in the new Official Development Assistance budget; and
-Ensure there is dedicated support from the UK Government for British nationals in India.
-We urge you to act now to help save lives in India and around the world. None of us are safe from coronavirus until we all are.

We look forward to your response.

Yours sincerely,

Layla Moran MP
Liberal Democrats Foreign Affairs and International Development Spokesperson, and the other ten Liberal Democrat MPs

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14 Comments

  • “The UK has secured at least 340 million doses of coronavirus vaccine”

    Is that actually true? If it’s true then of course we should be sending some to poorer countries. However, I doubt the number of vaccines received by the UK is anything like that.

  • Laurence Cox 4th May '21 - 12:12pm

    “The UK has secured at least 340 million doses of coronavirus vaccines for a population of 66 million,”

    Layla Moran does not seem to understand the difference between the number of doses ordered (over 340 million) and the number actually supplied; just the fact that a shortfall of 5 million doses from the Serum Institute of India caused a slowdown in our own vaccination programme last month (https://www.bmj.com/content/372/bmj.n781) shows that there are not massive stockpiles of covid vaccine in this country.

  • Whilst I agree the UK (aka “Global Britain”) can and should do more, in the case of India I do have some misgivings in that the international community are being used by the Indian government as a get-out-of-jail-free card for their mishandling of the pandemic in their country.

  • Phil Beesley 4th May '21 - 1:35pm

    We can confuse ourselves if we focus on the number of vaccinations ordered by the UK government. Outcomes vary on when vaccination supplies are delivered (two injections or one?) and suitability for Covid variants in UK circulation. A wealthy country like the UK can afford to over order. That creates moral dilemmas about how and whether surplus vaccine shots ought to be distributed. If it isn’t good enough for us, why is it good enough for others?

    Two things which seem to have been ignored by all politicians, and which were obvious twelve months ago:
    * A universal vaccination service will be required for some time (years). At the moment we have projects delivering the first passes of Covid vaccines, mostly in developed countries or districts. By universal vaccination service, I’m talking about near elimination of Covid which will require people to be injected several times over several years.
    * Internationally, we’re going to have to make more vaccines. Competition to order Covid vaccines is proof that demand exceeds supply capacity. It’s an opportunity for pharma firms to do the right thing which might also be profitable by making products closer to where they are consumed.

  • john oundle 4th May '21 - 2:04pm

    ‘The UK has secured at least 340 million doses of coronavirus vaccines for a population of 66 million’

    Is Layla Moran not aware of the slowdown in UK vaccinations over the past month due to lack of supply?

    Does she not understand that ‘secured’ does not mean ‘in stock’ ready to use?

  • Barry Lofty 4th May '21 - 2:51pm

    Don’t tell me Mr Johnson and his comrades have been telling porkies about the supplies of vaccines in the country and how swimmingly everything is going? Perhaps they should explain the difference between secured and in stock in the next propaganda message.

  • john oundle 4th May '21 - 3:37pm

    ‘Perhaps they should explain the difference between secured and in stock in the next propaganda message.’

    We know how many are ‘in arms’ which is an amazing success & we also know (unless the media has been telling porkies), that supplies from India have been cut due to the rapid increase in cases in India & AZ is at max capacity.

    Seems you are one of the few people in the UK that doesn’t think the vaccine roll out has been a success.

  • Barry Lofty – there’s a lot that you can blame Johnson for, but this time it’s Moran’s statement that is very questionable.

  • Barry Lofty 4th May '21 - 3:49pm

    Of course it has been a success but I do not attribute that success at the door of Mr Johnson as he would have us believe, there are many contributing factors not least the expertise of the people organising and running the many vaccination stations throughout the country, including, of course, all the volunteers.

  • John Peters 4th May '21 - 4:41pm

    @Phil Beesley

    The Vaccines Manufacturing Innovation Centre planned in 2018 to be opened in 2022 has been brought forward a year.

    The intention is to be able to make millions of doses of vaccine at scale, enough to serve the entire population in as little as six months once the VMIC is fully operational, said business secretary Alok Sharma during the government’s daily press briefing yesterday (18th May 2020).

    https://www.pharmaceutical-technology.com/projects/vaccines-manufacturing-oxfordshire/

    http://www.pmlive.com/pharma_news/uk_pledges_131m_for_a_rapid_deployment_facility_to_make_coronavirus_vaccines_1340452

  • Phil Beesley 4th May '21 - 5:39pm

    Many people have short memories.

    Twelve or fourteen months ago, it was difficult to find Paracetamol in UK shops. European manufacturers of the drug didn’t actually make the stuff, relying on external suppliers for the precursors. Paracetamol, of course, is a useful drug for treating patients suffering mild Covid.

    Indian suppliers ramped up the supply of Paracetamol, a simple drug. It is less likely that any drug company can ramp up production of Covid vaccines to protect billions of people — unless there’s less politics.

    Sino-, Russo-, Oxo- or Yanko- political vaccine nationalism doesn’t help. Covid won’t go away until enough people are vaccinated, all over the world.

    If we are really lucky, we’ll be able to give people a Covid jab and an anti-Malaria one on the same day.

  • In fact I believe the recorded number of deaths pro rata is less than in the UK although I appreciate many go unreported so if India has mishandled covid…

    Obviously charity begins at home and it makes sense to donate ventilators and health supplies.

    But thankfully deaths and hospitalisation and serious disease are becoming very low in the UK so it does make sense to see whether we can very slightly slow down our vaccination rate and donate some jabs to India particularly as with all developing nations the fragility of their health service – although as reported on the BBC website they have a strong vaccination programme for other things and have significantly reduced infant mortality in recent years.

    We would want other countries to come to our aid

    As Gordon Brown said today it is worth the richer nations spending the £34 billion needed to vaccinate the world – loose change compared to the trillions it’d cost if covid was to get a hold again but as vaccines become available.

  • @Phil Beesley – “If we are really lucky, we’ll be able to give people a Covid jab and an anti-Malaria one on the same day.”

    That’s such a good point, I’m surprised the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation haven’t been reported for suggesting it, given the alignment of aims.

  • Many countries have ordered more vials than they need knowing that not all will arrive. It is only sense to distribute these via an international humanitarian mechanism to those who cannot otherwise access them. We will not be over this until all countries have adequate supplies of vaccine.

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