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World Immunisation Week Debate


2nd May 2019

Harriett Baldwin responds to the House of Commons debate on World Immunisation Week.

The Minister of State, Department for International Development (Harriett Baldwin)

It is great pleasure and honour for me to be able to respond to this incredibly important debate in World Immunisation Week. It has been exceptional to see the quality rather than the quantity of the contributions that we have had. We started with my new boss, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, who leapt into action on his first day in the job to come to the Dispatch Box and speak without notes, giving a sweeping review of not only the history of vaccination but DFID’s important work in it as of today. I think that Members across the House have been able to be reassured by his passion and commitment to this incredibly important work.

I was also pleased to hear contributions from a range of other Members. The hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Dan Carden) spoke very movingly about the lessons he learned from his own grandfather. The stories that we heard throughout the debate of the personal experiences that we have had ourselves or in our families really stood out, because we have been part of a generation —an era—that has made a dramatic difference in this area. We have all pledged ourselves this afternoon to continue to be part of that difference.

The hon. Gentleman asked about replenishment, as did a number of other Members. We are in a period from 2016 to 2020 when we are contributing £1.44 billion to this important work, delivered primarily through Gavi. As a Government, we are very much looking forward to being able to host the Gavi replenishment in 2020. I can announce today that we will of course continue to be a leading contributor to the Gavi replenishment. Obviously, ​we will hold our horses in terms of announcing to the House exactly how much we will be contributing to that replenishment in due course.

The hon. Gentleman raised a number of other important points, including the issue of vaccine hesitancy. We must, as we did this afternoon, send a united message on behalf of all of us here in the UK against that taking hold here in the UK, but also on how important it is to work on this around the world. We heard a range of contributions about social media, in terms of fake news, being part of the medium for these unhelpful messages. That is clearly an online harm. I would encourage all hon. Members to engage with the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport on the online harms consultation.

The hon. Gentleman also raised the important issue of middle-income countries. Of course, DFID’s work prioritises the poorest countries. To reach the sustainable development goals, it is important that we contribute overseas development assistance, and we are proud that the UK is the first country to put into statute the 0.7% contribution. But we must also—this is where there is an element of political difference between the hon. Gentleman and me—crowd in the extra $2.5 trillion that is needed every year to reach those goals. That will necessarily come from outside the public sector. Members have raised the importance of pharmaceutical companies in this research and the role of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. I need hardly say that if it were not for a successful capitalist system, they would not have been able to donate that money to their foundation.

Dr Whitford

At the moment, the transition begins when a country reaches a certain level of gross national income, which is a relatively crude measure. We are seeing a greater number of unvaccinated children, often in middle-income countries, and multiple countries requiring post-transition support. Obviously Gavi is rethinking that strategy, and I ask the Government to encourage it to look at something a bit more multifactorial than a number on a piece of paper.

Harriett Baldwin

The hon. Lady is right to emphasise that point. We all hope that low-income countries will become middle-income countries and graduate from being supported by Gavi. In 2015 and 2016, for which we have the most recent data, countries that graduated from the Gavi programme maintained the levels of vaccination, but this needs to inform the next period in terms of replenishment, because we cannot afford to lose the community benefit of the level of vaccination.

I was deeply moved by the speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for North East Bedfordshire (Alistair Burt), who I enjoyed having as a colleague for so many months, and I pay tribute to the work he did to champion this cause. I hope his father is still watching television—hello, Mr Burt.

Alistair Burt

Dr Burt.

Harriett Baldwin

Dr Burt. His father can be really proud of what his son, having survived those vicious injections as a child, has gone on to deliver, in terms of saving the lives of so many millions—literally, millions—of children around the world with his work.

My right hon. Friend paid tribute to the work of Rotarians. I know that all Members will have come across Rotarians in their constituencies who have been ​steadfast in raising money to eradicate polio. We are truly on the cusp of doing that. He also mentioned the dangers that health workers face in delivering vaccines. He rightly paid tribute to the Pakistani health workers and police who were killed in terrible attacks in the last month. I think daily of the bravery of health workers who are going into eastern Democratic Republic of Congo to deliver for the first time in human history the experimental vaccine developed for Ebola. He mentioned the tragic loss of Dr Mouzoko in a conflict zone, with the community resistance to the process of vaccination that has been with us for centuries.

My right hon. Friend made a range of other important points. He talked powerfully about the impact that measles can have and of the three challenges concerning messaging via religious leaders, countering conspiracy theories and countering anti-vax messaging on social media.

I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire (Dr Whitford) for the expertise she brings to her chairmanship of the all-party parliamentary group on vaccinations, with her many years of experience as a doctor. I know that she continues to be active in this field. She gave a sweeping review of the contributions to the development of vaccines throughout history, and particularly in the UK. She rightly mentioned the promise of the malaria vaccine trials. Scientists continue to come up with new and better ways to deal with more and more frequent diseases, including the neglected tropical diseases that we continue to support through the Department for International Development.

The hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate (Bambos Charalambous) drew attention to the sheer millions of children who have been protected thanks to this vaccination programme. We can estimate how many millions of lives have been saved as a result. He rightly called for us to continue that work through the replenishment of Gavi.

I salute the achievement of the hon. Member for Bristol West (Thangam Debbonaire) in running the marathon on Sunday. She made a very good speech. It is never easy, as the last speaker in a debate, to bring in new points, but she did. She drew attention to the brilliant O’Neill review of antimicrobial resistance in 2016, and I noted her family interest in the work of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

We heard a number of themes in the debate. The first was that disease knows no boundaries. The Department for International Development is responding to the debate because this ties our world together. We need to work as a world to tackle this challenge and ensure that every child has access to vaccinations. Another theme was the expertise of the Department for International Development in this area—

Alistair Burt

rose—

Harriett Baldwin

I give way to one of those experts.

Alistair Burt

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for saying so. The expertise in the Department has been much commented upon, and we are fortunate to have it there and across Government. We are working increasingly with the Department of Health and Social Care, and there is a new committee, which I hope my hon. Friend will follow, to enhance our work. Ensuring that the research base remains strong and is reflected in Departments’ work is important, as is acknowledging that it is my hon. Friend’s birthday. We appreciate her spending her time with us and enlightening us. Despite all the other things we have to think about, the importance of this topic is central, and today’s debate shows that this House can work together on important things, as indeed it must.

Harriett Baldwin

That is very kind, and I am grateful for those good wishes.

I want to conclude with the following observations. We are talking about a public good—perhaps in no other area of human endeavour is there more of a public good—and it is right that we strengthen the public response and public health systems with regard to this work. Every £1 we spend in this area leads to a £16 benefit, in terms of lives saved, time saved and people’s ability to continue to contribute to society. It is remarkably good value for money. As well as strengthening public health systems, we must strengthen our worldwide economy, and that needs to happen through a combination of public services and a successful and thriving private sector. We need both if we are to deliver on this global challenge. I would like to recognise and thank everyone who has taken part in this important debate.

Hansard



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