Jeremy Farrar is the director of Wellcome, an independent charitable foundation supporting research to improve global health.
As Canada surges toward the highest vaccination rates in the world, the possibility of a less restrictive summer edges ever closer. The national vaccination campaign is undoubtedly a remarkable achievement, with more than half the population having received at least one dose already. But until every country can access COVID-19 vaccines, tests and treatments, we all remain at risk.
When Justin Trudeau and other G7 leaders meet in Cornwall this week, addressing the gulf in global vaccination rates must be the top priority. In 2020, science delivered the tools to exit this pandemic, with researchers in Canada playing a key role. Yet just halfway through 2021, there have already been more reported cases and deaths than in the whole of last year. Unless we distribute the vaccines wisely now, more people will die after the world was given those life-saving tools than before.
More than 75 per cent of all vaccine doses have been administered in just 10 countries, while across the world, many places still lack supplies to protect their health care workers, the elderly and most vulnerable. High-income countries, including Canada and the rest of the G7, which have bought up the majority of this year’s supplies, are the only ones that can make the necessary doses available. It is imperative they do so. We’ve seen generous financial contributions, but money can’t buy vaccines right now – which is what the world desperately needs.
Sharing vaccines with countries most in need is everyone’s best shot at a return to normality. It would have the greatest impact on exiting the pandemic this year. Donating doses is not just morally right, it is in the best interest of every country. As we have tragically seen, increased transmission can lead to new, more infectious variants. These variants can – and will – cross borders. A new variant is most likely to arise from huge populations with uncontrolled epidemics and no access to vaccines. Ensuring the world’s population has access to these life-saving tools remains the best way to protect everyone, everywhere.
As with other global crises, Canada has demonstrated bold, forward-thinking leadership throughout the pandemic. It is one of only two G7 countries – the other being Germany – to have funded its fair share of the WHO-backed Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator. Its donation of $1.3-billion has helped make COVID-19 advances fairly available to everyone around the world.
Canada must continue to lead on the international stage and urgently donate surplus vaccine doses. With Japan recently pledging 30 million doses and reports that the U.K. is set to make a pledge, Canada is quickly becoming the only G7 country yet to commit to sharing any doses. Even after vaccinating every one of its citizens, Canada will have access to at least 115 million doses. It can start to share doses today without detracting from the national rollout or putting vulnerable people at risk. Publishing a timetable that sets out how and when this will be scaled up will ensure that manufacturers and countries receiving shipments can fully prepare. All doses should be shared through COVAX, the only mechanism that can ensure equitable access.
This week’s G7 Summit will define the decades to come. It must be the moment for the richest countries in the world to unite, for warm words to finally translate into actions. If countries that can afford to share the tools to exit this pandemic choose not to, it will drag on for years. That is not in the best interest of anyone, anywhere. The greatest leaders act on the right side of history.
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