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Call for equitable access to jabs as UK government hits target


Nuffield Council on Bioethics signs WHO vaccine equity declaration as UK vaccinates 15 million

The Nuffield Council on Bioethics has called on all countries to ensure equitable access to Covid-19 vaccines as the UK government met its target of vaccinating 15 million people in less than ten weeks.

On 15 February, the bioethics council announced that it had become the latest organisation to sign the World Health Organisation’s vaccine equity declaration, which urges countries to work together in solidarity to ensure that vaccination of health workers and older people will be underway in countries within the first 100 days of the year.

“We believe the value of equity should be given the greatest weight in decision-making around vaccines in the Covid-19 pandemic, both nationally and globally,” the council said.

“The best way to end this pandemic, stop future variants and save lives is to limit the spread of the virus by vaccinating quickly and equitably, starting with healthcare workers.”

‘Beating the virus jab by jab’

The news came as the UK government confirmed that, as of 14 February, all care home residents and staff, health and social care workers, people aged 70 and over, and the clinically extremely vulnerable had been offered a jab.

In total, more than 15.3 million people in the UK—more than a quarter of all adults—have now been vaccinated with their first dose, meaning the government has met its target of vaccinating 15 million by mid-February.

“This accomplishment is thanks to the incredible efforts of frontline NHS workers, vaccine volunteers, the armed forces, and all those working in local and central government,” said health secretary Matt Hancock. “The vaccine rollout shows what our country can achieve by working together.

“There is so much more to do, and I urge anyone eligible to step forward and take up their appointment. The vaccine is our route to freedom—we will beat this virus jab by jab.”

News that the target had been reached was welcomed by Steve Bates, chief executive of the BioIndustry Association, who said it was down to “the strong triple-helix partnership between industry, academia and government”.

“This early collaboration work has meant the UK Vaccine Taskforce has established a UK supply chain for the Oxford University/AstraZeneca vaccine and made further investments into future vaccine manufacturing capability, such as the Cell and Gene Manufacturing Innovation Centre at Braintree and the new centre of excellence for mRNA vaccines at CPI [Centre for Process Innovation] in Darlington,” he said.

“Our task as an industry is to continue to work with government to ensure we have a strong medicine manufacturing base here in the UK, with the right facilities and people, to help deliver innovative treatments for patients and create highly skilled jobs to support the UK’s economic recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic.”

NHS England has now started offering vaccines to people in the next two priority groups, as recommended by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation, which includes those aged 65 and over and people with underlying conditions that make them clinically vulnerable to Covid-19.

The government aims to offer a vaccine to all priority cohorts by May and all adults by September.

First child vaccine study

Meanwhile, the National Institute for Health Research is funding the first study to assess the safety and immune response to the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine in young adults and children.

The trial, which launched on 13 February, is being run by the University of Oxford, together with three partner sites in London, Southampton and Bristol.

“While most children are relatively unaffected by coronavirus and are unlikely to become unwell with the infection, it is important to establish the safety and immune response to the vaccine in children and young people, as some children may benefit from vaccination,” said Andrew Pollard, a professor of paediatric infection and immunity and chief investigator on the Oxford vaccine trial.

“These new trials will extend our understanding of control of SARS-CoV2 [in] younger age groups.”