This article was written by Damian and published in this week's Petersfield Post and Herald editions:
"With more than 22 million people in the UK now having received their first dose of a vaccine - which is a third of all adults - we are starting to see real evidence of how the vaccination rollout is driving down the number of people in hospital and the number of deaths.
Our route out of this pandemic is looking increasingly more secure and sustainable. We continue to see great progress, both nationally and across our own area, with almost 12,000 people under 65 in East Hampshire having already received one dose of the vaccine.
But we know that just vaccinating our own population is not the answer to this global threat. At the recent meeting of the G7, the Prime Minister led the call for a united approach to tackle the virus, and there was collective agreement to work together and to support the role of World Health Organisation (WHO) in leading and coordinating that global effort.
The UK has also pledged to donate most of the UK's surplus vaccine supply to poorer countries - a commitment that is supported by almost 70 percent of people in the UK, according to a recent poll by The Economist.
COVAX - Covid-19 Vaccines Global Access Facility - is the international initiative led by the WHO that aims to distribute vaccines to one billion people in 190 countries by the end of 2021.
It has raised funding worth $6 billion, with $734 million from the UK and a pledge from the US for $4 billion. Supporting with work of COVAX, and withdrawing plans to leave the WHO, was one of the first acts taken by President Biden when he took office in January.
And with the approval of the Oxford University/AstraZeneca vaccine by the WHO, the programme has begun its roll out, with Ghana the first country to benefit, receiving a shipment of 600,000 doses on the 24th February.
All participating countries are expected to have access to enough doses for high risk groups (approx. 3% of population coverage) by the end of the first half of 2021. The scale of the challenge is staggering. Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, announced last week its initial allocation and plan to deliver more than 238 million doses to 142 countries by end of May 2021.
The commitment and cooperation of the international community is key to this global effort. It will involve a significant boost in vaccine development and deployment, working with industry to upscale manufacturing capacity. Enabling access to affordable therapeutics and diagnostics will also be important, as will be data and information sharing.
One of the great success stories here in the UK has been our expertise in genomic sequencing and how that is being used to identify new variants. With a reported 4,000 variants around the world, it is vital that this detection work continues at pace and informs how vaccines can best be adapted in the future.
At the G7 the Prime Minister also called for an international commitment to cut the time taken to develop new coronavirus vaccines, from the 300 days it took last year to 100 days, as recommended by the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI).
We have seen the global devastation wrought by Covid-19 and the world needs to have a much greater preparedness and vigilance for the next pandemic; a threat that we know is inevitable.
And one of the most significant trials underway in the UK is to understand whether doses of the Pfizer/BioNTECH and Oxford Universiry/AstraZeneca vaccines can be combined. This won’t impact the current vaccination programme here, but it could influence the longer term development and roll out of vaccines across the world.
Early evidence and data on the efficacy of the vaccines is as we know looking very positive, as has been the 12 week dosing regime, but we don’t yet know how long that protection will last. Immunologists across the globe continue to research this, but it’s simply too early to know the answer to that question.
The pandemic has undoubtedly shone a spotlight on our enduring relationship with nature, and the perils that we can face. Science, together with a truly international effort, has enabled us to respond in a way that few would have thought possible a year ago, and it remains one of our greatest assets going forward.
It is perhaps significant that the commitment made by the G7 group goes beyond the immediate challenges of Covid-19, and pledges to put climate change and biodiversity loss at the heart of global ambitions and post pandemic recovery plans.
The collective response to Covid-19 has shown that extraordinary things can be achieved if the collective will and ambition is there.
How we step up together to tackle the climate emergency has never been so important and all eyes will be on the outputs of the UK-hosted COP26 in November."