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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Tuesday, December 21, 2021

Meeting of the Parliament (Hybrid) 21 December 2021

Agenda: Time for Reflection, Business Motion, Topical Question Time, Covid-19, Point of Order, Rented Housing Sector, Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, Parliamentary Bureau Motions, Decision Time, Point of Order, Covid-19 Vaccines


Contents


Covid-19 Vaccines

The final item of business today is a members’ business debate on motion S6M-02360, in the name of Sarah Boyack, on ending pharmaceutical monopolies of Covid-19 vaccines. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament notes the calls by a coalition of Scottish charities to support the ending of what it considers to be pharmaceutical monopolies; understands that these monopolies are reportedly artificially limiting vaccine supply to low-income countries; considers that vaccine inequality has resulted from a handful of pharmaceutical companies rationing supply, by refusing to share their vaccine recipes and know-how with the rest of the world, and notes the calls on the Prime Minister to back plans to waive intellectual property rules and to insist that vaccine know-how and technology is shared via the World Health Organization’s COVID-19 Technology Access Pool, in order to enable a life-saving escalation in global vaccine production and help avoid the development of further COVID-19 variants like Omicron, which may impact people in Scotland, including in the Lothian region.

17:22  

First, I thank colleagues for their support in securing tonight’s debate. If the past few months have taught us anything, it is that we are not safe until everyone is safe.

There is massive inequality in access to vaccines across the globe. As of last week, in high-income countries, 66.3 per cent of people had been vaccinated with at least one dose, but in low-income countries only 9 per cent of people had been.

Therefore, with omicron cases rising daily, it has never been more important to debate the need to end pharmaceutical monopolies of Covid-19 vaccines. To address the cost of vaccinating 70 per cent of the population in high-income countries would mean an increase of 0.8 per cent in healthcare spending; in low-income countries, an eye-watering 56.6 per cent increase would be needed. That money is simply not available.

In an excellent briefing, the People’s Vaccine Alliance noted that work has been going on to get a solution. It said that, in October 2020:

“South Africa and India submitted a joint proposal to the TRIPS (Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights) Council at the World Trade Organisation (WTO), titled ‘Waiver from certain provisions of the TRIPS agreement for the prevention, containment and treatment of COVID-19’. The UK Government rejected the text on the Waiver at the TRIPS Council meeting”—

in October of that year—

“saying that it was not necessary whilst also stating that existing measures to overcome Intellectual Property (IP) barriers would suffice.

The Waiver would allow all WTO members to choose to not grant or not enforce patents and other IP related to COVID-19 drugs, vaccines, diagnostics and other technologies until widespread vaccination is in place globally, and the majority of the world’s population has developed immunity ... The proposed waiver would be applicable only to COVID-19 health technologies.”

In debates and discussions about vaccinations, it is easy to get caught up in the numbers and the percentages. A key job for MSPs is to scrutinise our Government on how it makes vaccines and boosters accessible to our constituents.

However, we know that the greater the delay in rolling out vaccines globally, the more people suffer. Right now, as Oxfam has pointed out in its campaign, the whole world is dependent on just a handful of pharmaceutical corporations, which simply cannot make enough vaccines for everyone.

As a country that, rightly, prides itself on the universality of our national health service, it is morally indefensible that we are not taking every possible action to waive the rules that are creating vaccine monopolies and allowing large pharmaceutical companies to profit off the back of a global pandemic.

In my motion, I note that monopolies are artificially limiting vaccine supply to low-income countries and that that vaccine inequality has resulted from a handful of pharmaceutical companies rationing supply by refusing to share their vaccine recipes and know-how with the rest of the world. That must end now.

As former Prime Minister Gordon Brown highlighted in The Guardian,

“In June, Boris Johnson promised he and the G7 countries would use their surplus vaccines to immunise the whole world. In September, at a summit chaired by President Biden, a December target of 40% vaccination was set for the 92 poorest countries. Two and a half months on, there is little chance of this target being met in at least 82 of them. By Thursday the US, which to its credit has been responsible for half the vaccines donated, had still delivered only 25% of the vaccines that it promised.”

The world is now living with the consequences of those broken promises.

It is not all doom and gloom. I welcome the fantastic work of the People’s Vaccine Alliance. Comprised of organisations that include Oxfam, Christian Aid, and Global Justice Now, the People’s Vaccine Alliance continues to advocate for fairness and an end to the vaccine inequalities.

I lodged a previous motion on this issue, which was similar to the one that we debate today. It gained the support of 55 members of the Scottish Parliament. To the First Minister’s credit, after it was lodged, she wrote to the Prime Minister to urge him to support the waiver.

However, one letter is not enough. I want to hear what work the Scottish Government is doing behind the scenes with United Kingdom Government colleagues and campaigners to ensure that those who are opposed to the waiver are challenged.

To the Conservatives in this Parliament I say, what work are you doing to communicate with colleagues in Westminster to get a different outcome?

In June, the European Parliament supported a temporary Covid-19 vaccine patent waiver. The vote was not unanimous but it reflected a strong agreement that action is urgently needed to produce affordable vaccines that can be distributed across the globe.

Evidence from the Covid-19 response so far and from many other public health issues throughout history, including the AIDS crisis in the 2000s, clearly illustrates that intellectual property rights restrict access. The situation will only get worse, unless Governments intervene.

The issue of high-priced medicines has become a global problem that affects not just low-income but middle and high-income countries. In the UK in the past few years, a breakthrough hepatitis C medicine has been rationed on the NHS, due to its high cost; cancer patients have had to crowd fund and campaign for treatments that have not been available on the NHS; and cystic fibrosis patients have had to wait more than three years to access a new therapy, as the pharmaceutical company priced the drug above the reach of our NHS.

Even though we have vaccines, in Scotland our NHS is under massive pressure from the pandemic. I ask colleagues to imagine what the Covid pressures look like in a low-income country with a small health budget and even fewer resources.

I again thank members for their support in securing this debate. I will continue to campaign on the need for political action and to focus on the concrete steps that we, through the Scottish Parliament and as individual MSPs, can take to bring vaccine equality globally.

We need a life-saving escalation in global vaccine production to ensure that people in low-income countries are kept safe. As I said, we are not safe until everyone is safe.

Thank you Ms Boyack. I remind all members to direct their comments through the chair.

17:29  

I congratulate Sarah Boyack on securing the debate. Ms Boyack has rightly outlined the issue of vaccine monopolies. I remind members that I am a nurse and I am part of NHS Dumfries and Galloway’s vaccine team. I have not done many booster shifts recently, but I have one scheduled on 30 December.

I support the calls from charities for the Prime Minister to waive intellectual property rules and to insist that vaccine technology is shared with the World Health Organization’s Covid-19 technology access pool.

As Action Aid points out, more than 200 million people have contracted Covid-19 infection during the pandemic, more than 4.5 million people have died and at least nine new billionaires have been minted because of Covid. That must change. Instead of creating vaccine billionaires, we must vaccinate the billions of people across the globe. Access to vaccines is not solely about ethics or fairness; it is also about reducing and limiting the reach and spread of a global and deadly virus.

Ensuring global access to Covid-19 vaccinations is in everyone’s interest. It will have many knock-on advantages for societies, economies, businesses and supply chains across the whole globe. At the end of September, the United Nations chief, António Guterres, spoke to world leaders on the disgraceful state of vaccine inequality, calling it

“a moral indictment of the state of our world. It is an obscenity.”

In response to the Covid-19 pandemic, vaccines have been produced. Although the proportion of the population needed to safely achieve global immunity to Covid-19 is uncertain, the World Health Organization has highlighted that herd immunity against measles and polio required 80 to 95 per cent of the population to be vaccinated.

That means that to be more effective the use of vaccines will likely need to be more widespread, globally. However, vaccine availability currently differs vastly from country to country. Work by the Our World in Data project, associated with the University of Oxford, has shown the differences in availability of vaccines. Using data from Governments and health ministries around the world, the project provides daily updates on global vaccination levels.

On 23 August 2021, it reported that 32.5 per cent of the world population had received at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine and 24.5 per cent had received two vaccine doses. However, only 1.4 per cent of people in low-income countries have received at least one dose. Many of those low-income countries could be considered part of the global south and 1.4 per cent is an incredibly low number.

In April 2020, a global initiative called COVAX was set up to ensure fair access to Covid-19 vaccines between countries, regardless of their income level. Jointly directed by the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance and the World Health Organization, the initiative pools global funding to invest in research, manufacture, purchase, and distribution of vaccines.

However, most high-income countries, including the UK, have made direct deals with manufacturers. That has led to high-income countries dominating the purchasing and administration of vaccines. As a consequence, vast regions of the world experiencing a rapid rise in COVID cases and deaths are unable to access vaccines, which are our primary route out of the pandemic.

I hope that Emma Harper recognises that it was the advance purchases that the major economies of the world were prepared to make, even while there was no vaccine in existence, that supported the research, development and introduction of the vaccines. That is a good thing. I hope that Emma Harper is not denigrating the actions of the UK Government and other Governments around the world in making those very wise investment decisions.

I can give Emma Harper the time back.

Thank you, Presiding Officer. I thank Stephen Kerr for that intervention. I am keen to ensure that we are aware that a lot of public funding from the UK went into the development of the vaccines. It is great that we have the vaccines, but, as Sarah Boyack pointed out, we are just going to go round and round with new variants, which I come on to in more detail.

Pfizer and Moderna are currently selling more than 90 per cent of their vaccines to rich countries, charging up to 24 times the potential cost of production, according to analysis by the People’s Vaccine Alliance. It costs around $1.08 to produce a vaccine dose, but they are being sold to countries in the global south for $9.72 each.

Last week, a former surgeon colleague of mine, Fanus Dreyer, who is the new president of the International Federation of Surgical Colleges, told me that the only way to reduce new variants and the transmission of the virus is to ensure that the world is vaccinated. That echoes exactly the words of António Guterres, who said:

“If the virus is allowed to spread like wildfire in the Global South … it will mutate again and again … This can prolong the pandemic significantly, enabling the virus to come back to plague the Global North.”

It benefits us if we do whatever we can to make the vaccine available globally. I again call on the Prime Minister to act in the interest of public health, address intellectual property law and ensure that vaccine technology and know-how are shared globally.

17:35  

I am delighted to support Sarah Boyack in this important debate. Adequate healthcare is a basic right that everyone should enjoy. That includes the right to be vaccinated against Covid.

Had we taken that approach globally, rather than simply considering Covid as a national issue, we might not be in the situation that we are in now. From the first moments that the crisis struck, a strange territorialism emerged rather than the co-operation that we need. Whether it means seeking to apportion blame to China or looking at vaccination tables like a football league, that attitude is wrong.

Prevention and co-operation have worked at their best in the rapidity of the vaccine production and the goodwill from members of our own communities, who have looked after each other. Every one of us has been impressed by that spirit. I assure members that not one person to whom I have spoken thinks that it is wise to deprive others of the vaccine simply to protect corporate intellectual property.

We must also recognise that the idea that the vaccines were created by the private sector alone is utter nonsense. There is no such thing as solely private sector research and development when it comes to pharmaceuticals. Most of the technologies and formulas that were used to reach the point at which a vaccine could even be made possible began decades ago in state-funded laboratories throughout the world. The pharmaceutical companies have found success on the back of others’ work; it is not a solo effort.

By refusing to make the formulas and vaccines available globally, we are simply shooting ourselves in the foot as well as dooming millions to the worst possible exposure to Covid. A significant number of those millions will die. We can have lockdown after lockdown but, in a global and free-flowing economy, the movement of people will always bring new cases and new strains back to our shores.

Why, then, should companies that have benefited from state subsidy and public research be able to deprive in-need countries of vaccine technology and know-how or make them completely unaffordable? Those acts are the worst aspects of market capitalism and truly shameful.

The fact is that plenty of people have looked at Covid as an opportunity and raked in cash. Whether it is dodgy personal protective equipment companies with links to UK ministers or multinational retailers hiking up prices, a cash grab is going on and it must not be allowed to happen with people’s health.

We have at least some good fortune in the UK, where tests, vaccines and treatments are all free. Sadly, in the world’s wealthiest nations, people are expected to bankrupt themselves to fund simple drugs such as insulin and are now being asked to pay for Covid tests, too. Their homes are being taken away and their livelihoods are being ruined just so that they can make it to the next month.

I know that my party says this a lot, but thank goodness for the NHS and the fantastic work of the pioneers in the 1940s. Otherwise, we, too, could have ended up with a similar system based on primal greed and selfishness.

In the spirit of that legacy, I back Sarah Boyack’s call to the Prime Minister. We must waive intellectual property rules and insist that the vaccine know-how and technology be shared via the World Health Organization’s Covid-19 technology access pool as soon as possible. Britain should lead the way on something positive, rather than spending all our time discussing how to cut overseas aid or close our borders to fleeing refugees. We must do the right thing. That would be a Christmas message to send to the world.

17:39  

I also thank my Lothian colleague Sarah Boyack for bringing this debate to the chamber.

The UK Government is already supplying vaccines to less-developed, low-income countries, and the World Health Organization has acknowledged that the UK is a leading country in that respect. By the end of 2021, the UK Government will have donated 20 million more Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccines to countries in need, as part of our country’s 100 million commitment. A further 10 million Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccines have been sent from the UK to COVAX. Those additional donations mean that 30.6 million surplus doses of Oxford-AstraZeneca will have been given to those in need in 2021, and further donations in 2022 will mean that the entire UK Janssen supply and half of the UK Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine supply will have been or will be donated to countries in need.

Oxford-AZ is one of the world’s most widely used vaccines, accounting for more than half of all COVAX deliveries. Thanks to AstraZeneca’s commitment to the UK Government to distribute the vaccine on a non-profit basis, 1.5 billion doses have been used in more than 170 countries.

Does my colleague agree that the rhetoric that we heard a few moments ago from Carol Mochan is regrettable? To rail against businesses such as AstraZeneca that are doing what they are doing in conjunction with Governments, including the UK Government, in the way that we have just heard from Carol Mochan is deeply regrettable, is it not?

Yes, indeed. We have the best scientists in this country, at universities and in industry, and it was Government, industry and research that together gave us the opportunity to lead the way in vaccination.

Surplus donations alone will not be enough to allow us to defeat the pandemic. That is why the UK is backing the Oxford-AstraZeneca production model, while providing developing countries with the financial support that they need to obtain vaccines. It is not as simple as giving the intellectual property away to developing countries, as the manufacturing process might not be able to deliver the product in some places. That has been stated by AstraZeneca. However, the commitment to providing the initially developed vaccine at cost in perpetuity for less developed countries is extremely welcome.

Domestic need for the current booster programme will be met through our mRNA vaccines and Oxford-AstraZeneca, meaning that the UK can donate its full Janssen order to developing countries. The UK continues to proactively manage our vaccine supply and does not hold a stockpile of Covid vaccines. All the procured regulated doses are either used rapidly by our domestic programme or are being shared internationally with countries in need.

Let us not ignore the role of other manufacturing arrangements that are being made: Gavi announced at the start of December that it had reached an agreement to access an additional 150 million doses of the mRNA vaccine against Covid-19 manufactured by Moderna, to be made available to COVAX at the lowest global tiered price. That amendment to the existing advance purchase agreement between Gavi and Moderna means that a total of up to 650 million doses of the Moderna vaccine could be available to COVAX participants through 2021 and 2022. Furthermore, as part of an urgent call for manufacturers to prioritise supply to COVAX, Gavi and Moderna have reached an agreement to make 20 million doses available to COVAX. Those doses, which were originally scheduled to be released to COVAX in quarter 1 of 2022, will now be available in this quarter, accelerating the response. We need to be mindful and to acknowledge how those innovative global initiatives between Governments, research and industry are all coming together to tackle the massive challenge ahead of us.

We are not out of this pandemic until we are all out of this pandemic, as Ms Boyack said. We need to help others while ensuring that we contain the virus here. I therefore welcome the UK Government’s commitment and action to send 100 million vaccines to countries in need.

I remind members who wish to participate, including by intervention, that they need to put their cards in their devices.

17:44  

I thank my friend Sarah Boyack for tabling the debate in Parliament.

Covid has brought out the very best in our society, but it has also brought out some of the very worst. In our local communities, we have seen solidarity in action and the power of people coming together, helping one another and benefiting everyone. In the globalised world of big business, however, too many have viewed the pandemic and the human misery it has wrought as a commercial opportunity—a racket from which excessive profits can be plundered.

Take the giant pharmaceutical companies—monopolistic private corporations benefiting from billions of pounds of public money to research and develop the Covid vaccines and now raking off massive payouts to line the pockets of the idle and undeserving rich. The People’s Vaccine Alliance, which includes leading UK charities such as Oxfam and ActionAid, estimates that Pfizer, BioNTech and Moderna stand to siphon off almost £50,000 a minute in profits this year alone. That is double the median annual wage in Scotland every minute.

One figure that I quoted was that it costs $1.08 to produce a vaccine dose, but that vaccine is being sold to countries in the global south for $9.72 per dose. Does the member think that that should be addressed?

Yes, I do. That is why the motion talks about monopolies and excessive profiteering. That is what is going on.

Let us take AstraZeneca as an example. Until very recently, it made a virtue of selling doses at cost price, but it is still laughing all the way to the bank after making the equivalent of £1.5 billion from its vaccine in the first nine months of this year. If you want to know what an upward curve looks like, compare Moderna’s share price in early 2020 to its share price today.

There are those who say that when businesses profit, we all do. I do not believe that. If it was true, we would all be sharing in the success of big pharma. If it was true, vaccine rates in poorer countries would not be catastrophically low. If it was true, the walls of patent protection, of the general agreement on trade in services and of trade-related intellectual property rights would be tumbling down, but they are not.

We hear complaints about delays in getting access to the vaccine here and of booster appointments not being available before the bells but a month away, but when we think that fewer than 6 per cent of people in Africa are fully vaccinated at all and that in Africa’s largest nation, Nigeria, that figure is just 2 per cent, a much bigger crime is taking place right in front of us.

It is no wonder that nursing trade unions representing more than 2.5 million health workers across 28 countries have described the situation as “vaccine apartheid”. They are right. They have lodged a formal challenge before the United Nations over the refusal of the UK, Switzerland, the European Union and others, under pressure from those drugs companies, to lift the patents on Covid vaccines. South Africa, where omicron was first identified, has been one of the countries pressing the World Trade Organization to change the rules to widen access.

I say to those, including those Tory members, who continue to oppose this that the public health case is irresistible, the humanitarian justification is unanswerable and the moral case is irrefutable. If we do not act now, we are not only putting more people’s lives at risk, we are condemning the world to a cycle of outbreak, containment, outbreak, containment.

Waiving those patents would be an act of equality and an expression of our common humanity. Of course, it would need to be forged into a reality by global investment in the mass production, distribution and exchange of vaccines across the world.

The skewed allocation of the worldwide vaccine roll-out is one of the clearest examples that we have of not just the global inequality of wealth but the global inequality of power.

In many ways, the pandemic has given us a glimpse of how things could be—that solidarity that we have seen in our communities—but it has also shone a light on how unequal our society is. So let us start here. Let us end this racket. Let us put the needs of the people before the greed and profiteering of the corporations. Let us get behind a people’s vaccine, and let us go into 2022 with renewed hope that, together, we can defeat the virus, and with the message loud and clear that we simply cannot and we simply will not wait any longer for global justice.

17:50  

I thank Sarah Boyack for bringing this debate to the Parliament, and I acknowledge and thank all the organisations that she referred to that are campaigning against vaccine apartheid.

As someone who is double vaccinated and boosted by the bells, I am grateful to all those involved in the development, distribution and giving of the vaccines. However, I am aware that I am in a hugely privileged position, and of how easy it is to take all this for granted. I have not always had the comfort of access to healthcare free at the point of need or the certainty of preventative medical care when needed, and every time that I speak to family and friends in southern Africa, I am reminded of just how lucky I am and how unequal the world is.

I refer to luck, but luck really has very little to do with it. The global health inequalities that we see are a product of political and economic decisions, of colonialism and empire. As we have already heard, they are a product of capitalism and greed.

Why do we accept a world in which generic life-saving drugs, such as those for HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria, which the World Health Organization includes on its essential medicines list, can be sold at prices that are up to 150 times the cost of producing, packaging and taxing them, and then a 10 per cent profit is added? Those are the generic medicines. Brand-named drugs can be much more expensive. Emma Harper outlined the cost to price differential of Covid vaccines. Why do we accept that?

We know that the global health inequalities that we see are not inevitable. That means that, if we seriously believe that no one is safe until everyone is safe, we need to change the unequal and unjust system.

We know that one of the key reasons why omicron and other novel variants of Covid will arise is that vaccines have not been made available to the global south in anything like the numbers needed. Three billion will be needed in early 2022. [Interruption.] No, I will not take an intervention.

While we are getting third doses, many have not had access to even one dose. That creates the conditions for viruses to mutate and avoid the human immune system, just as SARS-CoV-2 has done in developing the delta and then the omicron variants. It is truly the case with vaccines that the only way for any of us to be safe is for all of us to be vaccinated.

The argument for making vaccines available to the global south is one of social justice and global justice, but it is also one of self-interest. We need to ensure that we have vaccine equality, and the proposal that we deploy the trade-related aspects of intellectual property rights—TRIPS—exclusion for vaccine manufacture is vital. The decision by countries, particularly the United States, to stockpile vaccines only for them to go out of date and be destroyed is criminal. I am sure that many around the chamber will join me in condemning such atrocious selfishness.

However, we need to do more. Even if we had the vaccines available, the global south does not necessarily have all the infrastructure that it needs to roll them out at the rate that is needed to keep us all safe. That is one function of our neo-colonial approach to the global south, but it is something that we can and must rapidly fix.

We know that mRNA vaccines will give us the opportunity to develop resistance to a much wider range of viruses. From the human papillomavirus vaccine to the potential HIV vaccine, we should offer those in the global south access to newly available immunisations by building a global vaccine programme that can quickly be switched to emergency vaccination for the next novel virus that could decimate lives across the world. Such infrastructure will offer real and on-going defences.

While billionaires are going on joyrides in space, a really fitting mission for our world would be to create a global programme for vaccinating as many people as possible as quickly as possible. It is more than time for us to wrest power from the pharmaceutical companies and their interests, and act in the interests of all so that we can all be truly safe.

17:55  

I thank Sarah Boyack for securing the debate. We have heard some stirring speeches already.

From what we have heard this evening, it is clear that viruses have no regard for the invention of national barriers; they flow with the current of humanity around the world. That interdependence is one of the great strengths of a civilisation but, as we have seen in the past couple of years, it is also a major vulnerability. To not have a coherent global vaccination strategy is a bit like having your house go on fire but only being interested in putting out the fire in the room that you are in; eventually, the house will be engulfed in flames anyway. Worse still, we are denying our house-mates the tools to fight the fire. We have seen that with the omicron variant, which originated in South Africa, a country with a fully vaccinated rate of only 26 per cent. Omicron has made its way to the UK, resulting in increased restrictions on our lives once again.

People should be in no doubt that, unless we make vaccinating the rest of the world a priority, history will repeat itself with new variants time and again. Just three weeks ago, the UK acquired 114 million doses of Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, and of the more than 450 million doses that it has acquired since the start of the pandemic, the UK has donated just 70 million to the global south. That figure must be increased dramatically.

Given the significant public investment and expenditure that went into funding the development of the vaccines in the first place, surely we, the citizens, should expect better from the manufacturers. As time goes by, barriers to vaccine production at a global scale have been erected by large vaccine manufacturers, and we are all paying the price.

In Africa, one in four health workers are vaccinated, while in developed countries, three in four health workers have received their vaccinations. In the general population, a mere 8 per cent of adults in Africa are vaccinated. The effort to increase equality across the world cannot simply mean donating surplus vaccines from our own stocks, which is a move that simply foists vaccines with short expiry dates on strained healthcare systems that cannot always administer them. There must be a fundamental rethink of the way in which the intellectual property for vaccines operates. Right now, it is undoubtedly in the global public interest to provide access to vaccines and the technologies that are required to produce them in the regions that need them most.

It has been more than a year since the South African and Indian delegations to the World Trade Organization tabled their proposals to temporarily waive the TRIPS intellectual property protections governing Covid-19 vaccines, diagnostics and therapeutics. Seventy-seven per cent of the 6.4 billion vaccine doses so far administered globally have gone to people in high and upper-middle-income countries. However, the proposal remains stalled, despite the support of more than 100 countries. European and UK opposition arising from nebulous concerns about the impact on pharmaceutical innovation has been enough to block the adoption of the waiver. At the very least, as Rachel Thrasher, a researcher at Boston University’s global development policy centre, says,

“if we had taken that step a year ago and started that process a year ago, a lot of countries would be in a better spot. We would be facing a different global landscape.”

A position of lack of control over production capacity amid rampant vaccine nationalism has resulted in only nine Africa countries hitting a World Health Organization benchmark of vaccinating 10 per cent of their populations by the end of September this year. Now we understand that the price that we have to pay to install vaccine production capacity around the world is far smaller than the price that we are all paying now as a result of the omicron variant. That goes to a tension at the heart of our public and private realms—self-interest and the private profit interest versus the public good that benefits all mankind. We are seeing that play out in the UK. Conservative members made much play about the UK vaccine, but the UK Government is about to sell the Vaccine Manufacturing and Innovation Centre in Oxfordshire, which is yet to open, despite the investment of £200 million to ensure that we would have vaccine sovereignty in the UK and control of the distribution and production of vaccines globally.

The French company Valneva, which had invested in a vaccine production facility in Livingston, has now stopped that effort because of the UK’s controversial decision in September to cancel its order for Valneva vaccines. The decision not to continue that investment has been described as a “disaster” and is an example of how we are not even making an effort to build vaccine sovereignty in the UK, never mind to provide justice for the rest of the world.

18:00  

I thank Ms Boyack for raising this issue. I fully recognise that the Covid-19 pandemic is an unprecedented global health crisis. The emergence of the omicron variant serves as a stark reminder that no one will be safe until we are all safe, as many members have said. The crisis calls for an unprecedented global response and, frankly, that is what we have seen from pharmaceutical companies.

As the First Minister outlined on Friday, omicron has now become the dominant strain in Scotland. The surge in case numbers is already putting significant pressure on our health services and will have an impact on businesses. Scotland has made difficult decisions to introduce new measures to combat the rising wave of omicron cases. We all need to play our part in slowing down the speed of transmission, including by reducing social contact, taking a test before joining activities and, most important, getting vaccinated.

I agree that more action is needed to prevent new, more dangerous variants from developing and spreading across the globe. The best action that is available to us is to vaccinate as many people worldwide as possible, which will help to protect lives and livelihoods globally.

At the start of the pandemic, it was far from certain that we would have vaccines available for use within a year. On 8 December 2020, the UK became the first country in the world to deploy an approved Covid-19 vaccination. As a pharmacist, I am in awe of the speed of that development. It is quite incredible how many academic brains came together, with underwriting from Governments, to rise to meet a global challenge. It is astonishing that we managed, in one year, to develop a vaccine. I hope that we can maintain that collaborative effort for future use, because we have plenty more challenges that I would like us to work together on.

The World Health Organization currently recognises nine vaccines, and several more are under development. It is estimated that those vaccines, alongside other non-pharmaceutical interventions, such as hand hygiene and wearing face masks, have halved the number of potential global fatalities from Covid-19. They have saved more than 27,000 lives here in Scotland. It is important to recognise the vital work that researchers, manufacturers and all those involved in developing the vaccines have contributed and continue to contribute. It is thanks to their collective efforts that we have a range of safe and effective vaccines available.

How is the Scottish Government planning to work with vaccine-producing companies to deliver a corporately and socially responsible approach that results in Covid-19 vaccines being provided worldwide?

I will come on to the details on that—that is the bulk of my speech. I will not respond to that intervention just now, but I will say what we are doing.

The continued work of academics, alongside public health professionals, to sequence and share data on the virus will be pivotal in enabling us to respond to new variants that might escape the protection that is afforded by existing vaccines.

I recognise the important work that many Scottish charities are doing. In particular, members of the People’s Vaccine Alliance have worked hard to ensure that vaccine equity remains high on our agenda. I also commend the monumental efforts of vaccinators and public health professionals in delivering Scotland’s largest ever vaccination programme, and the solidarity of the people of Scotland in rolling up their sleeves to participate in that achievement—it really has felt like a national effort.

As a global citizen, the Scottish Government is committed to international solidarity, not just in response to Covid-19 but in tackling other shared global challenges, including poverty, injustice and inequality. So far, we have allocated £3.5 million of our international development budget to support the Covid-19 response in our partner countries of Malawi, Rwanda, Zambia and Pakistan. We have provided funding to support vaccine preparedness and delivery, including £2 million to UNICEF to help with vaccine distribution and roll-out as well as online healthcare education.

We are also committing a further £1.5 million from our international development fund in this financial year specifically for initiatives that are responding to Covid-19 in Malawi, Rwanda and Zambia. Our international development work continues to support those who are most vulnerable to the impacts of Covid-19, including women and girls, through a new equalities programme.

The UK’s participation in the COVAX initiative is an important step in helping other nations to access Covid-19 vaccines, but the initial aim of making 2 billion doses available by the end of 2021 is likely to be missed. Demand for Covid-19 vaccines will continue to outstrip supply. As of 14 December 2021, only 7.2 per cent of people in low-income countries had received at least one dose. Further, COVAX is not designed to build and expand vaccine production capacity. As members are aware, on 9 December, the First Minister urged the Prime Minister to support a temporary waiver for Covid-19 vaccines under the World Trade Organization’s agreement on trade-related aspects of international property rights.

That waiver is one measure that would help to facilitate critical access to patents, technology and know-how. It would enable global expansion of vaccine manufacturing and distribution, including in low and middle-income countries. Increasing global manufacturing capacity will benefit all countries and provide additional much-needed supply chain resilience. It is also an important step towards building local capacity and know-how here in Scotland, which will be invaluable for future pandemics.

Will the minister address the issue of the sale of the Vaccines Manufacturing and Innovation Centre in Oxfordshire? The centre was highlighted as a major opportunity to ensure that Government-sponsored vaccine manufacturing capacity would be a vital component of the UK’s preparedness for future pandemics, but it will now be lost. What could be done in Scotland to develop an equivalent capability?

I am happy to give you the time back for both of the interventions, minister.

Thank you.

As Paul Sweeney will know, my colleague Ivan McKee works closely with the life sciences industry, and I sit on a group with that industry. We are keen to build capacity to rise to all the challenges. At the start of the pandemic, when there was a global shortage of personal protective equipment, we did great work to ensure that PPE could be manufactured and produced in Scotland. We are keen to do the same for every aspect that we might need in future, such as vaccine manufacture, testing facilities and genomic sequencing know-how. All those things are on our radar, because we recognise how much work needs to be done to be prepared for the next pandemic.

The World Health Organization’s Covid-19 technology access pool, or C-TAP, has an important part to play. It provides a platform for developers of Covid-19 vaccines, therapeutics, diagnostics and other health products to share their intellectual property, knowledge and data with quality-assured manufacturers around the globe. That enables manufacturers that have additional capacity to produce the high-quality tools that we need to tackle Covid-19 effectively, efficiently and equitably. Contributions to the pool are voluntary. I commend all manufacturers that decide to share their intellectual property in that way. We recognise that the decision on a TRIPS waiver is a reserved matter, but we will continue to urge the UK Government to join the more than 100 countries that support the measure.

Enabling equitable access to safe and effective vaccines is essential to ensure that as many people as possible are protected as quickly as possible. That will be critical to ending the pandemic and bolstering global health security. Inaction in that regard would contradict Scotland’s commitments to international solidarity. Moreover, as others have said, allowing the virus to continue to circulate and further mutate would likely be epidemiologically self-defeating and would undermine the monumental progress on vaccination that has been made to date. We are committed to enabling greater vaccine equality. We will continue to urge action by the UK Government on reserved matters and to take action to deliver impact through our life-saving international development work.

Meeting closed at 18:10.