Oxford vaccine creator and University of East Anglia (UEA) alumna Professor Sarah Gilbert, along with the country’s leading experts in COVID-19, have called on people receiving their vaccine in the UK to support the global immunisation programme.
This comes during World Immunisation Week (24-30 April), organised by the World Health Organisation (WHO), which raises awareness of the importance of vaccines for the health of everyone.
The Arm in Arm campaign, established by UEA academics, asks people to donate to the WHO COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund when receiving their vaccine, if they are able.
The fund helps countries with fewer resources to track and understand the spread of the virus, providing treatment, emergency medical teams, and supplies to the most vulnerable people, and working to ensure vaccines are accessible to all.
Sarah Gilbert, who studied biological sciences at UEA in the 1980s, is now a Professor of Vaccinology at the University of Oxford and led the team who created the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine. She said: “I’m supporting this initiative because I want as many people as possible to be vaccinated against the virus all around the world, so that we can all be protected and we can all be safe.
“We have to tackle this pandemic as a global community. Viruses don’t recognise any national or international boundaries. They will spread very rapidly round the world and we need to stop the virus spreading everywhere so that we can protect everybody.”
The World Health Organization states that a further US$ 1.96 billion is required in 2021 to track and respond to the virus, coordinate and accelerate vaccination, and reduce deaths worldwide.
Paul Hunter, Professor of Medicine from Norwich Medical School, said: “It’s become blindingly obvious in recent weeks the huge inequality there is between different countries and their access to vaccines, and anything we can do to level up that inequality has to be the right thing to do.”
So far, around half of people in the UK have received at least one dose of a vaccine, but this is in marked contrast to many low-and-middle-income countries like India whose vaccination numbers are low and in recent days have had rising case numbers.
Christina Pagel, Professor of Operational Research from University College London, said: “From a basic moral fairness point of view, it’s not fair to leave many countries in the world without vaccinations and without protection now that we have really good vaccines. It’s also about protecting ourselves because the more chances covid has to mutate — and it has a chance to mutate every time it infects somebody — the more likely it is that we will end up with new strains of covid that make our current vaccines not work.’
Martin McKee, Professor of European Public Health at London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine: “I work very closely with the World Health Organization. Every day I see the remarkable work that they do, so I’m really pleased to be supporting this initiative by Arm in Arm, which is helping the COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund.”
Professor Gilbert, continued: “It’s World Immunisation Week and this is a good reminder that vaccines are our most cost effective public health tool. They are the best way of preventing the actions of so many infectious diseases on our populations and if we neglect routine vaccinations then we will see a rebound in these diseases. So it’s very important that we remove barriers to access to vaccinations for everybody across the world. We’re close to eradicating polio, we did eradicate smallpox; we can’t have those kind of successes unless everybody across the world has access to safe and effective vaccines.”