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February 6, 2021
As 2020 drew to close after a tumultuous year, Boris Johnson was in a celebratory mood as the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine was approved for use in the UK.
"It is truly fantastic news - and a triumph for British science," the prime minister tweeted on 30 December.
Reports weeks earlier claimed Downing Street had attempted to get doses of the Oxford vaccine labelled with an image of the union jack - a request that was ultimately rejected.
But did the words of the PM and health secretary have some unintended consequences?
Dr Paul Williams, a GP working in Teesside and former Labour MP, believes so.
He told Sky News he is aware of more than 10 people who have turned down the coronavirus vaccine after they discovered it was from US pharmaceutical giant Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech.
"I'll wait for the English one" was a phrase heard by health staff, he said.
Dr Williams says it is a "lesson that nationalism has consequences".
He told Sky News: "The rhetoric that was coming, particularly from the prime minister and the health secretary, was that they were really trying metaphorically - and I think even literally - to put a union jack on the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine."
Dr Williams said the development of the coronavirus vaccines was "an international effort".
"To try to label it as being the product of one country is nationalism and is not necessarily true," he added.
The GP has now warned of the danger that vulnerable people could make "bad choices around their own health" by wanting the Oxford vaccine over others.
"I firmly believe the best vaccine is one you can get first - they all work," he added.
"We're in the midst of an unprecedented crisis in the NHS. To delay vaccines for even a week more than is necessary puts the most vulnerable people at really unnecessary risk.
"The consequence is there are people who are vulnerable… who remain at risk of getting COVID and ending up in the hospital and dying, for a longer period of time. It's just unnecessary."
Countries, including the UK, are now being urged to avoid "vaccine nationalism" in their rollout of the jabs.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has called on the UK to pause its vaccination programme once vulnerable groups have received their doses to help ensure the global rollout is fair.
The prime minister is aiming to offer all UK adults the first dose by autumn, but the WHO has said countries should be planning for "two billion doses" to be "fairly distributed" around the world by the end of 2021.
It follows the ongoing row between AstraZeneca and the European Union over shortfalls in vaccine delivery to the bloc.
Last week the EU backed down on its threat to override part of the Brexit deal on Northern Ireland after widespread condemnation of the move as part of its export controls on vaccines.
The UK currently has one of the highest levels of vaccine coverage, along with Israel and the UAE, but many poorer countries are yet to start any immunisations.
International Trade Secretary Liz Truss told Sky News that vaccine nationalism must be resisted.
"What we know about the vaccination programme is this is a global problem and we need a global solution," she said.
"We're only going to be able to deal with this disease if we get everybody vaccinated across the world.
"It's vital we work together, it's vital we keep borders open and we resist vaccine nationalism, and we resist protectionism."
Sir Jeremy Farrar, a member of the government's Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE), has warned that vaccinating "a lot of people in a few countries, leaving the virus unchecked in large parts of the world, will lead to more variants emerging".
But Mr Hancock said on Monday the UK currently has 400 million doses of vaccine on order which will allow the government to send doses abroad to poorer nations.
"My attitude has always been we protect every UK citizen as fast as we can and at the same time we're generous around the world," the health secretary said.
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: "Vaccines are the best way to protect people from COVID-19 and will save thousands of lives.
"Both the Pfizer/BioNTech and Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccines have been authorised by the MHRA because they are safe and effective, and we encourage everyone to get their vaccine when it is offered."
Reported by Sky News
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