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‘Completely wrong and unjustified’: Tony Blair calls for vaccine hesitancy to be confronted

Tony Blair is calling on Boris Johnson to launch a major publicity blitz to boost COVID vaccine take-up rates and allay fears about side-effects.

The former prime minister claims the government should do more to sell the benefits of vaccines and publish data on how effective and safe they are.

Mr Blair’s call comes in a new report – Restoring Confidence in the Workhorse Covid-19 Vaccines, published by his Institute for Global Change – which examines reasons for rising vaccine hesitancy, particularly relating to AstraZeneca.

Side effects reported by patients receiving the AstraZeneca jab have included blood clots, pain around the injection, fatigue, headache, nausea, joint pain and muscle ache.

But Mr Blair’s report concludes that concerns must addressed by clearer data on the benefits of the vaccine and the UK is in a unique position to provide it, as the only country rolling out different vaccines in big numbers.

“In this paper, we set out why the reluctance – particularly around the AstraZeneca vaccine – is completely wrong and unjustified,” Mr Blair writes in the foreword to the report.

“Why regulators in different countries are taking decisions based on a narrow and unbalanced view of risk, and why the policymakers in government need to grip this situation urgently and bring some coherence and logic to the issue of vaccine assessment.

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“And do it globally. We combine this with a call for much better publication of the data on vaccine efficacy and safety.

“The UK government has a particular interest in this because AstraZeneca is a UK-developed vaccine and because it is the vaccine most used in the UK.”

The publicity blitz proposal is the latest in a string of eye-catching policies on COVID advocated by Mr Blair, who is widely considered to have had a good pandemic.

Earlier this year he called for Britain to use its presidency of the G7 to agree to launch an “international COVID pass” or vaccine passport, an idea now being considered by the government.

Spelling out Mr Blair’s latest COVID proposal, a close ally of the former Prime Minister told Sky News: “Data, and the way we present it, is the most important tool we have.

“Without it, we are fighting blind and when we choose not to publish it, we are creating vacuums where misinformation, fear and confusion thrive.

“We need better, clearer data that sets out the health outcomes for those who have the vaccine versus those who don’t.

“This could be in the form of raw numbers, updated regularly, where we see the number of Covid cases, hospitalisations and deaths, broken down by age, vaccine status and vaccine type.”

Mr Blair proposes publishing – as Israel has done with the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine – the following information:

The number of people vaccinated, then broken down by first dose and second dose and by age group;
• After vaccination, how many people contracted COVID-19;
• How many of those people were hospitalised;
• How many of those people died.

In his foreword, Mr Blair also writes: “The global community has an interest in the world getting vaccinated, and fast. Otherwise, we risk mutations of a serious nature that require new vaccines.

“Therefore we are chasing after each new strain, trying to eliminate it before the next one arises.”

The former prime minister discloses that in the next few weeks his institute will publish a plan for how the world could be vaccinated by the end of this year.

He adds: “But there is no possibility of such a global vaccination programme succeeding if vaccines such as the one developed by Oxford University/AstraZeneca are discredited based on unjustified anxieties about safety or efficacy.

“Because if this is true of AstraZeneca’s vaccine, it could equally apply to other adenovirus vaccines, such as Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine.

“And the consequence will be that the world is deprived wholly unnecessarily of the workhorse vaccines vital for global vaccination.”

Mr Blair continues: “I accept completely that the presentation of data has to be carefully curated so that it does not mislead but accurately informs.

“However, we are in a situation where, in my judgement, only the release of the total data set for the UK vaccination programme will carry the global credibility AstraZeneca needs.

“We can then also compare AstraZeneca and Pfizer to see the results. The UK is in a unique position to do this because it is the only country that, at scale, has deployed both vaccines in similar amounts.

“But this needs to be done now.”