OTTAWA — More than 100 Canadian heath and policy experts say the federal government has succumbed to “vaccine nationalism” because it has pre-purchased tens of millions of vaccine doses from private companies.
They are also critical of the government for not yet giving financial support to an international fund to help poor countries receive a COVID-19 vaccine — the COVAX Facility, as it’s called, which aims to equitably distribute two billion doses to them by the end of next year.
COVAX is aimed at averting a scramble by individual countries to secure vaccines for their own populations, often by pre-buying doses directly from pharmaceutical companies.
The Canadian Coalition for Global Health Research and Canadian Society for International Health, the lead groups in a letter released today, say Canada is doing just that because it has made deals to buy tens of millions of vaccine doses from at least four international biotech companies.
The spokesman for Karina Gould, Canada’s international-development minister, has said Canada is planning a contribution to COVAX by the program’s Sept. 18 deadline.
Gould, like Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, has said repeatedly that Canada wants to ensure that poorer countries have fair access to an eventual cure for the COVID-19 pandemic because the novel coronavirus can only be stamped out if it is stamped out everywhere.
The government has also said that it must take care of Canada’s own vaccine needs as well as helping distribute the pandemic cure to other regions.
But today’s letter from a range of health professionals, academics, policy advocates and individuals is critical of the government for its private advance-purchase agreements, saying they undermine the effort to distribute an eventual vaccine fairly.
“The success of this plan is now under threat due to the behaviour of many wealthier nations, including Canada, who are currently manoeuvring to secure vaccines for their own citizens — a phenomenon known as ‘vaccine nationalism,’ ” the letter says.
“Deals are being struck with frontrunning manufacturers ahead of the evidence and in a climate of financial secrecy to buy up supplies of a limited, lifesaving resource. Led by the United Kingdom, the United States and the European Union, wealthy countries are reported to have already pre-ordered more than two billion doses, essentially crippling vaccine supply for other countries until late 2021.”
The letter notes that Canada is committed to joining COVAX and has already pledged $120 million to the Access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator, which is linked to COVAX.
Earlier this year, Canada also renewed its commitment to GAVI, the Vaccine Alliance, by pledging $600 million.
Over the past 20 years, GAVI has become the leading international organization for distributing vaccines to less-developed countries.
The COVAX Facility is a vaccine-sharing alliance of more than 150 countries that is linked to the World Health Organization.
The plan would also give participating countries access to vaccines that would cover 20 per cent of their own populations.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 11, 2020.
Mike Blanchfield, The Canadian Press