The Duke of Sussex has blamed “mass-scale misinformation” for Covid vaccine hesitancy.
Prince Harry made a surprise virtual appearance at the GQ Men of the Year awards, where he presented a prize to Prof Dame Sarah Gilbert, Prof Catherine Green and the team behind the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine.
He delivered a speech urging governments to do more to vaccinate poorer countries, warning: “Until every community can access the vaccine and until every community is connected to trustworthy information about the vaccine, then we are all at risk.”
The duke said people were being “overwhelmed” by misinformation, leading to hesitancy over the jab.
“As people sit in the room with you tonight, more than a third of the global population has received at least one dose of the vaccine. That’s more than 5bn shots given around the world so far,” he said.
“It sounds like a major accomplishment and in many ways it is, but there is a huge disparity between who can and cannot access the vaccine. Less than 2% of people in the developing world have received a single dose at this point. And many of the healthcare workers are still not vaccinated.
“We cannot move forward together unless we address this imbalance as one. At the same time, families around the world are being overwhelmed by mass-scale misinformation across news media and social media, where those who peddle in lies and fear are creating vaccine hesitancy, which in turn leads to divided communities and eroding trust.
“This is a system we need to break if we are to overcome Covid-19 and the risk of new variants.”
Harry hailed the team behind the Oxford vaccine, who received the heroes of the year award, as “heroes of the highest order”.
“They are our nation’s pride and we are deeply indebted to their service. For the rest of us, including global governments, pharmaceutical leaders and heads of business, we have to keep doing our part,” he said. “That must include sharing vaccine science and supporting and empowering developing countries with more flexibility. Where you are born should not affect your ability to survive when the drugs and know-how exist to keep you alive and well.”
Green, who was part of the team that designed the AstraZeneca jab, said she echoed his comments. She said: “We didn’t know that was going to happen, so suddenly Prince Harry’s on stage. And he said all of the things we wanted to say about the necessity to get vaccines to the world for people irrespective of their ability to pay. A really important message.”
Gilbert, who co-designed the AstraZeneca vaccine, also agreed with the duke. She said: “We’re not going to be safe until everybody is safe and it’s really important to get the vaccine to everybody around the world.”
At the awards ceremony held at London’s Tate Modern, the singer Ed Sheeran, the actor Regé-Jean Page and the England manager, Gareth Southgate, were also honoured.
The Line of Duty actor Adrian Dunbar was named television actor of the year and Dame Vivienne Westwood was named gamechanger of the year during the ceremony.
She used her acceptance speech to call for action on the climate crisis. The fashion designer said: “We must do what we can … Strike at the very structure of our economy. Our economy is the cause of climate change. Its name is military industrial conflict. It’s a war machine.”