MPs debate economic impact of vaccines in Parliament

On Wednesday 13 June Members of Parliament debated the economic effect of vaccines in developing countries in a Westminster Hall debate led by Stephen Crabb, Conservative MP.

Stephen Crabb MP opened the debate by paying tribute to the UK’s expertise in international development, particularly in long-term interventions. He explained that providing vaccinations for hard to reach communities provided the best value for UK Aid money and Britain had provided excellent leadership and expertise in this area.

“Diseases are not just an unpleasant inconvenience for a country; they ravage a nation’s economy, directly affect its ability to grow and hold back economic development. Diseases keep poor countries poor.” 

He noted efforts to fund vaccinations including HIV/AIDS, TB and malaria; while also discussing the impact of Ebola and Zika, in low and middle-income countries. He then turned to the economic benefit of vaccination programmes, which positively impacted on countries national security and resilience:

“Some of the health impacts of vaccinations are widely known. For example, between 2010 and 2016, 109 million children were given the pneumococcal vaccine to protect against the main cause of pneumonia, saving an estimated 760,000 lives. In 2017, nearly 1 million people were vaccinated against cholera when an epidemic threatened South Sudan. Only 400 people lost their lives, thanks to an integrated approach that also incorporated surveillance, investigation of and response to cases by rapid response teams, the provision of clean water and the promotion of good hygiene practices.”

Jim Shannon, DUP MP for Stangford added:

“The development of an effective vaccine against polio was heralded as one of the major medical breakthroughs of the 20th century. Currently, several different formulations of polio vaccines are in use to stop polio transmission. Poliovirus infections have fallen by more than 99%, from an estimated 350,000 cases in 1988 to 416 reported cases in 2013. Let us dwell on that for a second: a 99% reduction resulting from an immunisation programme. If that is not good news, there is something wrong with what we are listening to. That is what can be done if we have the commitment, the effort, the finance and the drive to make it happen. Our Government have been involved in that programme; our Minister and his Department have been involved in making it happen.”

Bill Grant, Conservative MP for Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock, went on to add:

“It is shameful that people, especially young children, are still dying needlessly or suffering in large numbers from diseases that are so easily preventable by vaccination. I am thankful and proud that the UK Government recognise the health and economic importance of vaccination and are working tirelessly to build the healthier world that I am sure we all wish to see. The UK foreign aid budget has many critics, but, despite the odd failing, we can be extremely proud that the provision of vaccines is a key component of UK aid. I hope the Minister will confirm that such efforts will continue and might even expand.​”

Chair of the APPG on malaria and neglected tropical diseases, Jeremy Lefroy MP, spoke of delays between vaccine development and them being made compulsory, adding “there is no excuse not to make vaccinations available, when they have been tested and proven to be efficacious and safe, as soon as possible.”

SNP Spokesperson for International Development, Chris Law agreed organisations like GAVI played a vital role in ensuring roll-out of existing vaccines, and added:

“Vaccines save lives. They can transform countries, offering opportunities for poverty reduction and greater social and economic development. We must ensure that existing life-saving vaccines are introduced into countries where people need them most, and support the innovation needed to develop new vaccines.​”

Shadow Minister for International Development, Preet Kaur Gill, spoke of the 30 million children under the age of five suffering from preventable diseases every year and the number of children dying from pneumonia. She asked the minister what efforts the Government were taking  to reach the most marginalised children.

Preet Gill also highlighted that vaccines are intrinsic to universal health coverage and that she hoped “the UK Government will publicly champion the principles of united healthcare within their bilateral and multilateral support, while increasing technical and financial support to help to strengthen primary healthcare systems.”

The Minister of State, Department for International Development, Alistair Burt, agreed that in addition to the moral case for vaccines, they are also one of the best buys in public health:

“As colleagues have said, for every £1 spent on immunisation, there is a direct saving of £16. Those savings include healthcare costs, lost wages and lost productivity due to illness. Vaccination is a key driver towards reducing childhood mortality globally, and vaccines administered in 41 of the world’s poorest countries between 2016 and 2030 will prevent 36 million deaths. Vaccination provides economic benefits many times beyond the direct costs of vaccinating children, which is why it is such a high impact investment. As the hon. Member for Dundee West reminded us, if we take into account broader economic and social benefits, the return on investment rises from £16 to £44 for every £1 invested. The wider economic benefits of vaccination are vast.”

A number of other MPs also noted the return on investment of vaccines and the positive impact, including, John Howell and Dr Dan Poulter.

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