The UK will be “generous around the world” with its vaccine supplies while ensuring its population is protected, the Health Secretary has said.
Matt Hancock said that while he was “delighted” at the UK’s vaccination success, he believed that rollout was “fundamentally… a global effort”.
Mr Hancock told a Downing Street press conference that the UK currently has 400 million doses of vaccine on order and that 9.2 million people across the country had now received jabs.
It comes after officials from the World Health Organisation (WHO) urged the Government to pause its vaccination programme after protecting the most vulnerable groups to ensure global rollout is fair.
Mr Hancock said the number of vaccines on order was “obviously more than the UK population needs”.
“My attitude has always been we protect every UK citizen as fast as we can and at the same time we’re generous around the world,” he said.
“I want to say this to our international partners: of course I’m delighted about how well this is going at home but I believe that fundamentally the vaccine rollout is a global effort.”
He highlighted the AstraZeneca jab as the “only vaccine available to the whole world at cost” and said that it could be “practically deployed” to the poorest parts of the world.
“We will protect UK supply and we will play our part to make sure the whole world can get the jab,” he added.
We’ve ordered another 40 million vaccine doses from Valneva, which if it gets regulatory approval, will be made right here in the UK, in Livingston, Scotland.
The vaccine programme shows just how important it is to have the UK working as one. pic.twitter.com/H1XSqRxZf7
— Matt Hancock (@MattHancock) February 1, 2021
Boris Johnson said the Government will continue with its aim to offer all UK adults a first vaccination dose by autumn, but the WHO said doses should be “fairly distributed” around the world.
Margaret Harris, spokeswoman for the WHO, said ensuring equitable global distribution is “clearly morally the right thing to do”.
It comes after the row between AstraZeneca and the European Union over shortfalls in vaccine delivery to the bloc, with the EU backing down on its threat to override part of the Brexit deal on Northern Ireland on Friday after widespread condemnation of the move as part of its export controls on vaccines.
Asked about supplies of vaccines following disputes with the EU, Mr Hancock said: “We have a high degree of confidence in the supplies that we have contracted from Pfizer and AstraZeneca and we’re working with our European partners to make sure those supply chains can remain open.
“And in the same way that there are some of the supplies made on the continent, so too a huge amount of it is made onshore here in the UK.”
He said “constructive progress” had been made with the EU over the weekend, adding: “Following those decisions by the EU, I’m confident that we will be able to deliver supplies to everyone who needs it for their second dose.
“This is obviously something we keep a very close eye on.”
But Professor Jeremy Brown, a member of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), said that the question of donating vaccine supplies abroad would be “incredibly difficult” and that it would depend on levels of supply.
“(The Government) seems to have picked the winners, they are all working,” he told the BBC.
“That means we’re going to have an excess, so we would be in a position to give the vaccines or move them on to other countries.
“When we do that is an interesting question and I think that depends on the rate of supply.
“If there’s an excess of supply compared to the number of people we’re vaccinating then that’s an easy decision to make to give the excess to other countries.
“If there’s not an excess of supply at the given time then it becomes quite a difficult decision.”