Canada plans to redirect 13 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine that the government has already ordered and send them to low-income countries to help boost global vaccination rates, but it’s not clear when the doses will be sent or how many more shots Canada will share.
The pledge came at the end of the Group of 7 summit in Carbis Bay, England, and was part of a commitment by the leaders of Canada, the United States, Britain, Germany, Italy, France and Japan to immediately donate at least 870 million doses over the next year to COVAX, an alliance co-led by the World Health Organization which is providing vaccines to developing countries.
The G7 pledged to make the doses available “as soon as possible” and aimed to deliver at least half by the end of 2021. They also said that together with the group’s collective financial support for COVAX, the G7′s commitments “since the start of the pandemic provide for a total of over two billion vaccine doses.”
Canada has already committed $1.3-billion to COVAX, which the government said has helped the alliance purchase 87 million doses and provide other medical supplies to the world’s poorest countries.
“It’s important to remember that just giving vaccines to the world on their own isn’t quite enough,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told reporters on Sunday. “We need medical systems, we need refrigeration systems. We need abilities to get those [doses] into arms around the world.”
Mr. Trudeau added that the government expected to be able to identify more jabs that could be donated in future, but didn’t outline a timeframe. When pressed to specify when the 13 million doses would be sent, Mr. Trudeau replied: “A number of these doses are on their way as we speak; more will come in the coming months.” He added that because of the volume of vaccines Canada has ordered, there will be “even more doses that were destined for Canada that we’re going to be able to share around the world as we see Canadians getting vaccinated to higher and higher levels and we simply do not need those doses.”
Ottawa has ordered 252.9 million doses, enough to vaccinate every Canadian more than three times over. According to The Globe and Mail’s vaccine tracking, the government is also on course to have enough supply to give two doses to all eligible Canadians by August.
The WHO and dozens of international development organizations have said the pledge by Canada and other G7 leaders fell far short of what’s needed. “This G7 summit will live on in infamy,” a statement from Oxfam said. “Never in the history of the G7 has there been a bigger gap between their actions and the needs of the world.”
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told the summit on Saturday that the agency needed 100 million doses in June, another 100 million in July and 500 million more by the end of the year just to meet its vaccination targets. In total, it will take 11 billion doses to vaccinate everyone, Dr. Tedros said.
“Many other countries are now facing a surge in cases – and they are facing it without vaccines. We are in the race of our lives, but it’s not a fair race,” Dr. Tedros said Sunday. “We welcome the generous announcements about donations of vaccines and thank leaders. But we need more, and we need them faster.”
Michael Messenger, president and CEO of World Vision Canada, said he was cautiously optimistic about Canada’s pledge. “But we’re concerned that this is too little, too late – especially if this isn’t new money and the vaccines don’t start moving immediately,” Mr. Messenger said Sunday.
“The current global vaccine gap is appalling, far worse than most Canadians realize. In the lowest-income countries with the most at-risk people, as few as one in 500 have even had their first shot.”
David Morley, president and CEO of UNICEF Canada, welcomed Canada’s announcement, but added: “To overcome acute shortages and saves lives currently at risk, Canada’s donations must come through rapidly and at scale, and must increase as more people in Canada get their first and second shots.”
Canada has also come under pressure to join the U.S., France and other countries in pushing to waive patent protection for new COVID-19 vaccines in order to increase global production. The World Trade Organization has begun debating whether to grant a temporary waiver to provisions in its agreement known as Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property, or TRIPS.
During the summit, South Africa President Cyril Ramaphosa urged the leaders to agree to a waiver. “The proposed TRIPS waiver is a temporary, targeted and proportional response, which recognizes the unprecedented nature of the pandemic,” Mr. Ramaphosa said. “The negotiations must be concluded soon because the cost of inaction is measured in people’s lives.”
Britain and the European Union, home to several large pharmaceutical companies, have been cool to the idea. They argue that easing patent rules alone won’t increase supply and that other measures would be better suited, such as reducing trade barriers and increasing knowledge-sharing.
Mr. Trudeau didn’t explicitly support a waiver and said Canada will work with the other 163 WTO members to find a solution. “We are looking at every possible way to ensure that everyone gets vaccinated as quickly as possible,” he said Sunday.
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