Britain is leading the way out of this pandemic


Britain is leading the way out of this pandemic

This week, I’ve been hosting Health Ministers from the other G7 countries in Oxford, just down the road from where Sir Roger Banister first ran his four-minute mile. Like that “miracle mile” – which, until it happened, many thought impossible, – our vaccine effort has become one of the most remarkable achievements in British history.

Six months ago this week, we fired the starting pistol on the rollout, becoming the first country in the western world to provide a clinically approved Covid-19 vaccine. We all remember the images of Margaret Keenan and William Shakespeare getting their jabs. Since then, three in four adults across the U.K. have had a jab – now more than 40 million people – and more than half have had both jabs. It’s not a race anyone is running alone. We are all part of something bigger, because each one of us has a role. Nine in 10 of us say we have either had the jab or we’d be willing to get it when it’s our turn – higher than anywhere else in the world. I’m proud that in this country people are so willing to be vaccinated. I think it’s because people believe in the science of vaccines – much of it British, all the way back to Edward Jenner – and recognise the importance of not only protecting ourselves, but those around us and our actions are making a difference.

Given this momentum, I’m delighted that from next week we will start offering vaccines to people aged under 30.

But this race is far from won. The Delta variant, first identified in India, is more transmissible and now makes up the majority of new Covid-19 cases in this country. So the mission over the next weeks and months is to stay ahead in the race between virus and vaccine.

We have to show the same spirit that has taken us this far and keep doing our bit. That means keeping up the basics – like hands, face, space and fresh air – and getting regular tests. A huge proportion of the latest cases are in children, so it’s especially important all children of secondary school age take a test today before going back after half term tomorrow – and to isolate if positive, to stop the spread and protect the education of their peers.

And of course, it’s critical we keep coming forward for our jabs when it’s our turn, including that vital second jab, which we now know gives better protection against the Delta variant.

We are also going to keep strengthening our arsenal. Like we have done with the vaccine programme so far, we will back a range of vaccines for the booster programme. We’ve opened talks with AstraZeneca on a variant vaccine that could offer even better protection against the Beta variant, first found in South Africa, as we move towards a strategy of adjusting our Covid-19 jabs for mutations in the virus, much as we do with our flu jabs each winter.

None of this would be possible without the private-sector life sciences industry. The technology it works on is saving lives and keeping people healthy. This week we have joined forces with many of the leading companies in a drive to slash the time it takes to develop and deploy new diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccines to 100 days. This won’t be easy, but we have met many audacious goals in this pandemic – from testing to vaccines – and this next one is vital to our future protection and freedom.

On Wednesday, while at the Health G7 in Oxford, I visited scientists at the Jenner Institute where so much of that ingenuity is happening – and where the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine was first developed. We fully backed this vaccine from the very beginning, with tens of millions of pounds worth of funding for the University of Oxford’s clinical trials. That project was never just about investing in a jab for the UK – it was about vaccinating the world.

This week, the Prime Minister will host G7 leaders in Cornwall. He’ll be working to persuade them to join us in making an historic commitment to vaccinate the entire world against Covid-19 by the end of 2022. After all, we can only be truly safe when everyone’s safe.

More than half a billion doses of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine have now been released for supply around the world – at cost. This is, in my view, the best way to vaccinate the world. Developing a vaccine and allowing countries to manufacture it at cost is the greatest gift this nation could have given the world during the pandemic – and it is creating a safer world.

As we mark six months of the UK’s vaccine programme, we all have a role to play to ensure we make this lap of our race out of this pandemic the last lap, so we can safely restore our freedoms and build back better, with British science at the heart of our recovery.

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