Update: On Friday, Canada said it will contribute 100 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine to low-income countries
Canada has been left as the only G7 country that has not made a firm commitment to share its excess vaccine supply, after the United States confirmed and Britain announced on Thursday that together they will donate 600 million doses in total to low-income countries over the next year.
Britain and Canada have been under increasing pressure to share vaccines after every other G7 country – the United States, France, Italy, Germany and Japan – committed to donating doses.
The British and Canadian governments had insisted for weeks that they weren’t in a position to share vaccines just yet. But on the eve of the G7 leaders’ summit in Cornwall, England, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced that the country will donate 100 million doses by the end of 2022, with five million doses going to the poorest countries by the end of September this year.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau arrived in Cornwall late Thursday and he has yet to indicate whether Canada will share excess doses.
Ottawa has insisted that it was waiting to confirm the size of its surplus before making a pledge. However, federal officials have not specified whether they will wait for everyone who is eligible to get their jabs before sharing any excess with other countries or COVAX, an alliance co-led by the World Health Organization that’s trying to ensure equitable access to vaccines. The government did not respond Thursday to a request from The Globe and Mail for comment.
Ottawa has bought 252.9 million doses of vaccine, enough to inoculate the entire population more than three times over. According to The Globe’s vaccine tracking, the federal government is on course to have enough supply to give two doses to all eligible Canadians by August.
In a statement Thursday, the British Prime Minister said: “As a result of the success of the U.K.’s vaccine program, we are now in a position to share some of our surplus doses with those who need them. In doing so, we will take a massive step towards beating this pandemic for good.”
Nearly all of the donations will go to COVAX. The British government did, however, attach some strings to its pledge and noted that “dose sharing will be kept under review as the pandemic and global supply environment develop.”
Mr. Johnson’s announcement came hours after President Joe Biden confirmed that the U.S. government will buy 500 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine and give them to COVAX. The first 200 million doses, purchased at a not-for-profit price, will be delivered in August and the remainder will be donated by June, 2022. The U.S. is also reportedly in talks with Moderna Inc. about acquiring some of its vaccine for further donations and Mr. Biden had already announced that the U.S. would donate 80 million doses this month.
“The United States is providing these half-billion doses, with no strings attached,” Mr. Biden said Thursday after a meeting in Cornwall with Mr. Johnson. “Our vaccine donations don’t include pressure for favours, or potential concessions. We’re doing this to save lives.”
Mr. Johnson said G7 leaders were expected to announce that they will provide one billion doses of vaccine to the world through dose-sharing commitments and financial support to COVAX. Canada has contributed $440-million to the alliance to help it buy vaccines.
The leaders will also set out a plan to expand vaccine manufacturing and prevent future pandemics.
French President Emmanuel Macron will push the other leaders to back calls to ease the rules surrounding patent protection for vaccine developers. “We should commit at the World Health Organization and at the World Trade Organization to guaranteeing that intellectual property will never be an obstacle to accessing vaccines,” Mr. Macron told a news conference in Paris on Thursday.
Mr. Biden has also supported waiving patent protection for vaccines but the idea has been less well received in Canada, Britain and the European Union, which is home to several major pharmaceutical companies. The EU has argued that waiving patent protection won’t boost production and that the bigger issues are reducing export barriers and making it easier to manufacture vaccines in more countries.
In a statement Thursday, Oxfam welcomed the pledges to donate vaccines but said the commitments were still “a drop in the bucket compared to the need across the world.”
“It’s time to let the world help itself,” added the development agency, which is part of a coalition of organizations called The People’s Vaccine. “Rather than more lucrative transactions with very profitable pharmaceutical corporations, we need a transformation toward more distributed vaccine manufacturing so that qualified producers worldwide can produce billions more low-cost doses on their own terms, without intellectual-property constraints.”
The WHO and other groups have calculated that 11 billion doses will be needed to immunize everyone. On Thursday the WHO said that 47 of Africa’s 54 countries will miss a September target of vaccinating 10 per cent of their people unless Africa received 225 million more doses.
“Vaccines have been proven to prevent cases and deaths, so countries that can, must urgently share COVID-19 vaccines,” said Matshidiso Moeti, the WHO’s regional director for Africa. “It’s do or die on dose sharing for Africa.”