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Securing access to a coronavirus vaccine is a matter of national security

Securing access to a coronavirus vaccine is a matter of national security

Vaccinations are a key element of our approach to health. | PA Images

3 min read

If an effective and affordable vaccine is invented in time to halt the spread of COVID-19, we need to make sure it becomes rapidly available in the UK, writes Chris Green MP.

With an aging world population, higher expectations for health and the increasing threat of rapid transmission of pathogens due to globalisation, there is an ever-growing demand for better and faster medical treatment.

Vaccinations are a key element of our approach to health and, in many ways, we are world leaders.  From the research and development of new treatments, to the effective delivery through public health programmes and to our participation in the Gavi Vaccine Alliance which improves vaccine access to children in low income countries.

There are growing concerns about the declining take up of vaccines in the UK as without the, now controversial, ‘herd immunity’ society as a whole becomes more vulnerable.  For relatively small numbers of people, there are religious reasons for not vaccinating but there are particular challenges for people in transient communities because of their difficult relationship with health centres.

Perhaps, of greater concern is of significant numbers of people buying into the idea that they ought not to have their children vaccinated because of a perceived greater risk.  This is most notable with the MMR vaccine but it does not just make those children vulnerable, it makes many others vulnerable because of the lack of herd immunity.

When common diseases have largely been eradicated from our society and infant mortality has plummeted, perhaps it is too easy for people to not appreciate the risks they are taking with their children’s lives.

SARS, MERS and Ebola have all been high profile diseases in the media but they had minimal direct impact on peoples’ lives than the current and deepening Covid-19 crisis is having.  Our Chief Medical Officer and Chief Scientific Advisor are leading the public health response and guiding the government in its actions but there is still the question of when a vaccination will be created.

If and when a Covid-19 vaccine becomes available, there is going to be a whole range of questions from its efficacy to pricing and of access to it.  If an effective and affordable vaccine is invented in time to halt the spread of Covid-19 and protect those who are most vulnerable, can we be sure that it would rapidly become available in the UK?

The impact of Covid-19 is taking its toll in lives but it is also having a devastating effect on economies.  It will be no surprise if the global economy does not go into recession but a depression with key elements of national economies being severely damaged.  This places the Covid-19 pandemic as a question of national security, where securing access to an effective vaccine is above almost all other priorities.

On 8th March, Germany blocked the sale of 240,000 facemasks bound for Switzerland because their need came before that of other countries.  There is now a global shortage of this basic element of PPE so special relationships and treaties will take second place to national interest and national security.  Globalisation and the interdependency that goes with it are going to be fractured when national interest comes first.

With limited vaccine manufacturing capacity around the world, who will be first and who will be last to secure supplies of any commodity?  It is impossible to imagine any President or Prime Minister allowing life saving treatment to be sold overseas before their own people are protected.

When facemasks become a question of national health, then surely we have to review our R&D, supply chain and vaccine manufacturing capacity as an urgent question of national security.

 

Chris Green is the Conservative Member of Parliament for Bolton West. 

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