The British health minister has said that the UK does not currently have any excess doses to send to India -- currently home to the world's worst coronavirus outbreak -- despite the country's ongoing vaccination rollout that has successfully vaccinated its priority groups and is now targeting younger ages.
In spite of mounting calls for rich nations to equitably distribute their surplus vaccines, Hancock said that they are providing India with the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine at cost and are also working closely with the Serum Institute of India (SII).
The SII “are making and producing more doses of vaccine than any other single organization. And obviously that means that they can provide vaccine to people in India at cost,” Hancock said.
“We're leaning in, both on what we can provide and the material goods we can provide now like ventilators that we thankfully don't need any more here,” he said.
“India can produce its own vaccine, based on British technology, that is… the biggest contribution that we can make which effectively comes from British science,” Hancock added.
India is in throes of a deadly second wave of the coronavirus which has seen cases surge above 300,000 for eight consecutive days, and a death toll that has surpassed 200,000 -- after the country reported 3,293 deaths on Wednesday.
Hancock's comments on vaccine exports come as a recent Ipsos MORI survey found that many people in the UK are keen to send vaccines to India.
The survey, which polled 1,016 adults aged 16-75 on Tuesday, found:
- Around two-thirds (63%) surveyed said they support the UK giving some of its vaccines to India when everyone in the UK has been vaccinated
- 43% of respondents supported sending vaccines to India “as soon as possible” even if it meant relaxing UK lockdown restrictions at a slower pace.
- 36% of respondents said they were in favor of sending vaccines “as soon as possible” even if it delayed the UK’s vaccine rollout -- or resulted in a longer wait time for vaccines for their friends and family.
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 UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) announced that said it will be sending three “oxygen factories” to India, saying in a statement that the three oxygen generation units – each the size of a shipping container - would be sent from surplus stock from Northern Ireland and would produce 500 litres of oxygen per minute each, which is enough for 50 people to use at a time.
The UK had already committed to providing India with 495 oxygen concentrators and 200 ventilators sent from surplus stock, the first batch of which arrived in India on Tuesday, the FCO statement said.
“International collaboration is more essential than ever, and this additional UK support package will help meet India’s current needs, particularly for more oxygen,” Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said in a statement.
The FCO statement comes as the aid sector has heavily criticized the UK's plan to cut 85% of the aid it has pledged to the United Nations’ family planning program.
A top UN official on Wednesday called the move "devastating for women and girls and their families across the world."
"When funding stops, women and girls suffer, especially the poor, those living in remote, underserved communities and those living through humanitarian crises," Natalia Kanem – head of the UN’s sexual and reproductive health agency, said Wednesday in a statement.
This means that the UK's expected contribution of £154 million (approximately US $211 million) will be reduced to around £23 million (US$32 million).
Speaking 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 also garnered criticism from the humanitarian sector when it reduced its aid spending from 0.7% of the national income to 0.5%.