UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock speaks during a virtual press conference on Downing Street in London on Wednesday April 28th. Kirsty Wigglesworth / AP
The UK Health Secretary said the UK cannot currently send excess doses to India – currently home to the world’s worst coronavirus outbreak – despite the country’s ongoing vaccination rollout, which has successfully vaccinated its priority groups and is now targeting younger ages.
Despite increasing demands on rich nations to distribute their surplus vaccines fairly, Hancock said they are providing the Oxford / AstraZeneca vaccine to India at cost and are also working closely with the Serum Institute of India (SII).
The SII make and manufacture more doses of vaccine than any other organization. And of course that means they can provide vaccines to people in India at cost, ”said Hancock.
“We rely on what we can provide as well as the material goods that we can provide now, such as fans, which we luckily no longer need here,” he said.
“India can make its own vaccine based on British technology, which is … the greatest contribution we can make and which is effectively derived from British science,” added Hancock.
India is in a deadly second wave of the coronavirus that has seen more than 300,000 cases for eight consecutive days and the death toll topped 200,000 – after the country reported 3,293 deaths on Wednesday.
Hancock’s comments on vaccine exports come from a recent survey by Ipsos MORI that many people in the UK are interested in sending vaccines to India.
The poll, which polled 1,016 adults aged 16 to 75 on Tuesday, found:
- Around two-thirds (63%) of respondents said they would assist the UK in delivering some of its vaccines to India if they were all vaccinated in the UK
- 43% of respondents were in favor of sending vaccines to India “as soon as possible”, even if it meant a slower relaxation of lockdown restrictions in the UK.
- 36% of respondents were in favor of sending vaccines “as soon as possible”, even if this delayed the launch of vaccines in the UK – or resulted in a longer waiting time for their friends and family to get vaccines.
Over 33.9 million people in the UK have already received a first dose of a Covid-19 vaccine, with over 13.5 million now fully vaccinated, according to the latest government data.
On Wednesday the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) announced that it would be sending three “oxygen factories” to India. A statement said the three oxygen generating units – each the size of a shipping container – would ship excess inventory from Northern Ireland and each would produce 500 liters of oxygen per minute, which is enough for 50 people at a time.
The UK had already committed to supply India with 495 oxygen concentrators and 200 ventilators from excess inventory, the first batch of which arrived in India on Tuesday, the FCO said in a statement.
“International cooperation is more important than ever and this additional support package for the UK will help meet India’s current needs, particularly for more oxygen,” Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said in a statement.
The FCO’s statement comes because the aid sector has harshly criticized the UK’s plan to cut 85% of aid pledged to the United Nations family planning program.
A senior UN official on Wednesday described the move as “devastating to women and girls and their families around the world”.
“If funding stops, women and girls, especially the poor who live in remote, underserved communities and live in humanitarian crises, will suffer,” said Natalia Kanem – head of the UN Agency for Sexual and Reproductive Health, in a statement on Wednesday .
This means that the UK’s expected contribution will be reduced from £ 154 million (approx. USD 211 million) to around £ 23 million (US $ 32 million).
Talking about the cuts, Raab said it was part of the Foreign Office’s efforts to ensure “maximum strategic coherence, impact and value for taxpayers’ money”.
Last year, the UK was also criticized by the humanitarian sector when it cut its aid spending from 0.7% of national income to 0.5%.