One year after Britain’s vaccination programme was rolled out, we are a jabbed and boosted nation. For many, life is returning to normal. Yet, when we in the NHS look beyond our borders and see the low vaccination rates in lower-income countries, we shudder. For we know the misery lurking beneath those statistics.
Every twelve seconds, somewhere in the world, a child is orphaned by Covid. National lockdowns have been truly punishing, with sharp rises in famine, and childhood malnutrition, which increases susceptibility to diseases (not just Covid) and death.
Imagine what it would be like to know there is a vaccine available to end this horror. Imagine having the ability to manufacture the vaccine. Now imagine the feeling of finding out that rich countries, like the UK, have blocked the rights to the recipe and have bought up all the vaccines. You will need to wait for them to boost their population and then donate.
Can we imagine trying to run a vaccine programme without the fridges to keep the vaccine in? Or without the syringes to hold the liquid in? Or without the needles to simply break the skin?
This is the reality of the pandemic across countries in Africa, where less than 1 per cent of people have been triple vaccinated.
There is a solution. This year we launched the Access to Covid-19 Tools Accelerator (ACT-A) – a partnership of leading global agencies. It is hosted by the World Health Organization and comprises of Covax, the group working for global equitable access to Covid-19 vaccines.
In February, ACT-A launched a costed business plan to get to a 70 per cent global vaccination target by July 2022. This is based on richer nations paying their fair share by their GDP. It would cost the UK just 0.036 per cent of our national income (£720m) – much cheaper than our domestic Covid response, which totalled a staggering 18 per cent of our national income (£36bn). It would also be likely cheaper than a further national booster programme.
This small investment would end the misery of the pandemic, save millions of lives, boost the economy, and future-proof our nation from future strains. So far, the UK government has ignored this request for assistance from the international community. It continues to block Africa’s right to the recipe for the vaccine.
This stance is not compatible with our core NHS belief; that high quality healthcare is a basic human right and should be available for all, for free, forever. Our government’s stance directly discriminates against poor people living in low-income countries.
Healthcare experts have warned that low vaccination rates could lead to new variants. We’ve had Alpha, Gamma, Delta, Omicron… Will Pil be next to arrive at our borders? For us, the pandemic is not over either.
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This is the defining moment for our generation, where we face two choices. We can do nothing and spend the rest of our lives living with the guilt of our inaction and be judged by our children and grandchildren. Or we can stand shoulder-to-shoulder with healthcare workers and communities around the globe.
This is why we have started the #VaccinateTheWorld campaign, and a petition calling on the UK government to support global access to Covid-19 treatments for all. You can also email your MP a letter of action from the same website.
We are one humanity, born into this world equal. Join our NHS-led #VaccinateTheWorld campaign. Five minutes of your time could lead to saving five million lives.
Dr David Attwood is GP Partner and GPwSI Older People at Pathfields Medical Group, Plymouth