Ipswich MP slams French president's 'outrageous' vaccine comments

Ipswich MP Tom Hunt Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

Ipswich MP Tom Hunt criticised French president Emmanuel Macron for his comments about the Oxford/AstraZeneca Covid vaccine - Credit: Archant

While I write this column, we as a country have currently vaccinated over 13 million people and are well on course to meeting the target of offering the vaccine to everyone in the top 4 most vulnerable groups by the target date, this Monday (15 Feb). 

Locally, after a slightly slower start compared to other areas, the situation has been turned around. With regard to the proportions of those over 80 and 75 being offered the vaccine, we are now over the national average. 

I have visited the majority of the centres administering the vaccines in our town and I’ve seen first hand how hard our NHS teams and volunteers have been working and I would like to thank them for everything they have done and continue to do. 

When the Government set the 15 million dose target, many thought it would be impossible to hit and when you compare our performance to other countries you sort of understand where they were coming from.

Nurse Hayley Kirk. The first Ipswich covid vaccinations are being administered at Two Rivers Medical

Tom Hunt praised the speed of the coronavirus vaccine roll-out in Suffolk - Credit: Charlotte Bond

Every other country in Europe is trailing behind our vaccination programme. Compared to our 13 million vaccine doses administered, Germany have done just over 3 million, Italy just under 3 million and France little more than 2 million. 

The decision by the Prime Minister not to take part in the European Medicines Agency (EMA) vaccination programme was an inspired one and has enabled us to act much more nimbly and dynamically as a country. It will end up saving thousands of lives. I strongly suspect that if Sir Keir Starmer had been Prime Minister, we would have gone down the EMA route and this would have made the rapid strides we’ve made with our vaccination programme next to impossible. 

As many of you will have noticed it all kicked off a couple of weeks ago with the EU threatening to block the exports of the Pfizer vaccine to the UK and also trying to get their hands on our Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccines. It even culminated in the EU’s reckless threats regarding the Northern Ireland border that could have seriously destabilised the Good Friday agreement.

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This all resulted in the extraordinary spectacle of some of our country’s greatest EU cheerleaders, Tony Blair and the Lib Dem’s, condemning the behaviour of the EU – who would have thought it.

Personally, I found worse than this the outrageous unevidenced comments made by the French President Emmanuel Macron about the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine. Without any evidence to justify his comments he savaged the decision to leave a 12-week gap between the first dose and the second dose and said the vaccine was ineffective on those over the age of 65. 

Doctore Parikh with the Pfizer vaccine Picture: CHARLOTTE BOND

Mr Hunt believes the country will meet its target of offering the vaccine to everyone in the top four target groups by February 15 - Credit: CHARLOTTE BOND

Fortunately, only a few days later evidence emerged rubbishing both claims. Not only did it prove that the vaccine was highly effective 12 weeks after the first dose, but it also showed that the Oxford vaccine could cut transmission by as much as 65% (potentially a game changing moment in our battle against COVID-19).

The World Health Organisation came to the defence of the vaccine explaining that it is effective for those aged over 65, and also advising that spacing out the two doses, as is happening in the UK, actually makes the vaccine more effective.

It seems to me highly likely that both the erratic behaviour of the EU and the baseless now discredited comments by the French President were motivated largely by panic and desperation at how much more successful our own vaccination programme has been compared to theirs. 

Ultimately, I wish other European countries the very best with their vaccine roll out. It’s in all of our interests for the continent to be immunised as soon as possible and if there is anything that we can do as a country to help others bring the pain and suffering caused by COVID-19 to an end then of course I would welcome this.

However, this does not mean that it will be easy for all of us to forgive or forget the comments made by the French President and the damage they could have caused. 

One can easily see how his comments could have destabilised the public information campaign encouraging take-up of the vaccine and fuelled anti-vax conspiracy theories that a number of people across the country and within our own community are working desperately hard to quell. 

Millions of our loved ones (including my own 75-year-old dad) have now received the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine and rightly see it as their pathway to eventual freedom and getting their life back after the torrid year we’ve had. They have often waited with hope and excitement to receive their first jab and queued up patiently.

These nasty, unevidenced and spiteful comments made at the time they were really stuck in the throat and I imagine they did so for millions of people across the country. 

I voted in favour of leaving the EU and I’m an enthusiast about Brexit but I really do hope that in the years to come we are able to build a positive friendly relationship with the EU and enjoy good neighbourly relations with other European countries. This will be made difficult if the EU leadership don’t reflect on and learn the lessons of the past few weeks. 

Though I’m pleased to see our country doing particularly well in rolling out the vaccines and that so many of my own constituents have now received their first dose we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that this is humanity’s war against COVID-19, not Britain’s alone. All countries have the same common enemy and unnecessary tensions and ructions between us only makes the job of defeating the virus harder.

We live in an interconnected world and nowhere has this been more evident than in the extraordinary scientific progress that has been made developing vaccines, built on the back of global scientific close collaboration. 

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