The UK will look at any text submitted to the World Trade Organisation (WTO) seeking an intellectual property (IP) waiver to boost the supply and production of COVID-19 vaccines, the country's vaccines minister said on Thursday. Nadhim Zahawi, the minister in charge of the UK's COVID-19 vaccine deployment, however, issued a word of warning over any patent waiver moves to ensure they do not impact the confidence in the jabs being administered. Since the US threw its support behind temporarily suspending IP protections for COVID-19 vaccines back in May, the movement led by India and South Africa has come into sharp focus.
President (Joe) Biden talked about looking at vaccine IP. We would look at any text presented at the WTO because no one is safe until we are all safe," Zahawi said, in response to a question on patent waivers at the India Global Forum in London. I would issue a word of warning here, that simple solutions don't always work for complex manufacturing requirements because technology transfer is not easy. Quality control is very important. There are no easy answers, he warned.
The Cabinet minister also revealed that he had spoken to the Serum Institute of India (SII) this week and was informed that it is now producing the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine, named Covishield in India, at the rate of 100 million doses a month which would soon be doubled to 200 million. They (SII) are backed by the world's most highly regarded regulator, the UK's MHRA (Medical and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency), which makes them one of the safest, best and largest vaccine manufacturers in the world. They are also about to manufacture the Novavax vaccine, which is looking like a really great vaccine, he said.
India's aspiration to be the pharmacy of the world is incredibly exciting for us, he added. The minister's comments came as the National Health Service (NHS) launched plans for COVID-19 vaccines booster jabs as part of a two-stage programme alongside the annual flu vaccination programme from September. One jab in each arm will be promoted as a way of protecting against not only COVID-19 variants but also the seasonal flu.
Our COVID-19 vaccination programme has been a roaring success, with almost 85 per cent of adults across the UK receiving a first dose and more than 62 per cent getting both doses, said Zahawi. We are now planning ahead to future-proof this progress and protect our most vulnerable from variants and flu ahead of the winter. Vaccines are the best way to stay on top of this virus and I urge everybody to take up the offer as soon as possible, he added.
The move is aimed at prolonging the protection vaccines provide in those who are most vulnerable to serious COVID-19 ahead of the winter months.