The UK is “safer” – and its economy bouncing back more strongly – than EU countries because of the booster programme, Dominic Raab has claimed.
The deputy prime minister made the claim as Britain’s vaccine rollout sped ahead, with more than 15.6 million third jabs for vulnerable people administered.
And, asked by the BBC about a string of scandals swirling around Boris Johnson, Raab sought to focus attention on the booster campaign’s startling success.
“Let me point to the most successful vaccine roll-out, certainly in Europe, the booster campaign, which as a result means that we are far more protected going into these cold months – and we say it with sorrow not any crowing at all – what’s happening on continental Europe,” he said.
“As a result, not only are we safer in health terms but our economy is bouncing back stronger.”
Raab’s intervention came as a director at the World Health Organisation said countries should start thinking about making Covid-19 vaccination mandatory.
Robb Butler said “mandatory vaccine can, but does not always, increase uptake” but suggested countries – and individuals – should now be thinking about the issue.
It comes after Germany’s tourism commissioner, Thomas Bareiss, said he expects coronavirus vaccinations to become mandatory in the country, after a move by Austria to make them compulsory from February.
In the UK, Health Secretary Sajid Javid has ruled out mass mandatory Covid jabs, telling the BBC on Sunday he does not think it is something the government “would ever look at”, apart from for NHS and social care staff.
Butler told Sky News that mandates could come at the “expense of trust and social inclusion”, but added: “We believe it’s time to have that conversation from both an individual and a population-based perspective. It’s a healthy debate to have.”
But Anthony Costello, a professor of global health at University College London and former WHO chief, said such a move would “repel a lot of people” and could cause riots.
He suggested one of the reasons parts of Europe are seeing a surge in cases is because people are not all wearing face masks.
‘Lack of trust’
But he said Austria and Germany have half the death rate of the UK so far, while the Netherlands’ is less than a quarter – meaning “we shouldn’t pat ourselves on the back too much”.
He said mandating jabs would “repel a lot of people who lack trust in government and in vaccines.
“And you may start to see the unpleasant civil disobedience and riots they’ve had across Europe.”
Raab told Sky News the UK’s vaccination programme is working well.
He added: “We have said that we don’t think we need to go to our Plan B, which itself doesn’t include mandatory vaccines.
“Of course we have looked at the specific considerations that need to apply in the NHS and to protect residents of care homes, but it has never even been in our Plan B to have mandatory vaccines and it still isn’t.”