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Iraqi-Briton appointed head of UK's coronavirus vaccine drive

UK Conservative MP Nadhim Zahawi [Policy Exchange/Flickr]
UK Conservative MP Nadhim Zahawi [Policy Exchange/Flickr]

An Iraqi-born British politician has been appointed as head of the UK's coronavirus vaccine drive, Downing Street said on Saturday.

Nadhim Zahawi, 53, who is the Conservative Member of Parliament for Stratford-on-Avon and a minister for business and industry, will hold the role until at least next summer, according to the Guardian.

The 53-year-old will be responsible for the distribution of millions of coronavirus vaccines in the UK, following priority lists set out by the government.

The Baghdad-born politician will relinquish the majority of his responsibilities as a minister for business and industry in order to take on the role.

Zahawi said he was pleased to be chosen for the role, tweeting: "A big responsibility and a big operational challenge but absolutely committed to making sure we can roll out vaccines quickly – saving lives and livelihoods and helping us build back better."

British hospitals have been warned to prepare for the arrival of the Pfizer vaccine as early as 7 December, with the first inoculations going to National Health Service workers.

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Prime Minister Boris Johnson's government has also placed an order for 100 million doses of the vaccine developed by Oxford university and AstraZeneca.

The order should be enough to inoculate the entire British population with doses expected to start rolling out in the next few weeks, once the vaccination has been approved by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency.

Fifty-three-year-old Zahawi previously gained notoriety in 2017 when he publicly condemned US President Donald Trump's executive order that banned travellers from the Middle East entering the US.

Under the order, Zahawi and his Iraqi-born wife were prevented from entering the US, even to visit their children at university there.

Zahawi was born to an Iraqi Kurdish family in Baghdad in 1967. His family fled to the UK in 1976, where Zahawi studied, receiving a BSc from University College London.

He later co-founded the polling and market research firm YouGov and worked as the chief strategy officer for Gulf Keystone Petroleum before turning to politics in 2018.

The Iraqi-born Briton is believed to have a good relationship with Johnson, for whom he organised a trip to Iraqi Kurdistan in 2015. He has also previously worked with Health Secretary Matt Hancock, with whom he co-authored a book titled Masters of Nothing in 2007.

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