The UK’s Home Secretary Priti Patel on Wednesday defended Prime Minister Boris Johnson after his remarks that the country’s successful COVID-19 vaccination program was because of “greed” and “capitalism.”
British daily The Sun reported on Tuesday that Johnson told a group of his backbench MPs in a Zoom call: “The reason we have the vaccine success is because of capitalism, because of greed my friends.”
“It was giant corporations that wanted to give good returns to shareholders,” he said.
He reportedly tried to quickly backtrack on the comments, telling the MPs “Actually, I regret saying it,” adding repeatedly: “Forget I said that.”
Patel told London radio station LBC on Wednesday morning: “I didn’t hear those comments so I’m not going to get involved in that but the role of the free market, having absolutely a diversity in terms of different organizations that we’ve been able to work with on vaccinations, is incredibly important.”
Johnson’s comments provoked a furore, not least because they risked further inflaming tensions with the EU as its struggles with its own sluggish vaccination program.
Global Justice Now, which campaigns for greater access to vaccines for poorer countries, condemned the remarks.
Its director Nick Dearden said: “The prime minister will call this comment a slip of the tongue, but it’s an incredibly revealing remark. It shows just how warped his understanding of this crisis is.
“We have a vaccine because of massive public investment and the remarkable work of scientists at publicly-funded universities. We’ve rolled it out because of our incredible National Health Service.
“Greed, however, drove big pharma to privatize this work and withhold doses from millions worldwide to protect their profits. And, if Boris Johnson keeps letting it happen, there’ll be more coronavirus mutations that could send us back to square one.”
Richard Burgeon, a left-wing MP for the main opposition Labour Party, said the prime minister’s comments were “wrong” as “billions in public funds went into developing the vaccines.”
“Now the vaccine patents must be waived to ramp up production and save lives all across the world,” he said.
Patel also told Sky News on Wednesday morning: “The prime minister always acknowledges the strong success we’ve had in terms of the vaccine, not just the rollout, which is incredible, but also our ability as a country to develop the vaccine, the role that pharmaceutical companies and science and technology has played in that. And actually, I think that speaks to a great strength we have as a country.
“And linked to that, of course, look at our contributions to COVAX, the international scheme, to get the vaccine supplies elsewhere and demonstrate that we are a very, very strong force for good internationally when it comes to vaccines, science, and pharmaceutical development.”