Friday, December 11, 2020

Canada grossly over-orders vaccines, while poorer countries may have none

Canada currently has orders in place for 414 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines from seven different companies. This is for a population of 38 million, so enough (even taking into account that most vaccines require two doses to be effective) to vaccinate the whole population at least five times over.

Now, I understand that we may not actually take up all of these options, and that some of the vaccines included in these orders may not even come to fruition at all. The Sanofi/GlaxoSmithKline vaccine, for example, has just announced a delay until the end of 2021, as its product has not demonstrated a sufficiently strong immune response in older people. 

But we have ordered 76 million of the Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna vaccines alone (already approved, or as good as), which on their own would be enough to vaccinate the whole Canadian population, even assuming that everyone could be persuaded to receive a vaccination (not going to happen). So, do we really, then, need an additional 72 million from Sanofi/GlaxoSmithKline, 38 million from Johnson & Johnson, 76 million from Novavax, 20 million from AstraZeneca, and 76 million from Medicago? Canada is far from the only rich country to over-order, but we seem to have gone way further over the top than any other country.

I understand the need to "hedge our bets" and over-purchase a bit as an "insurance policy", especially as they were ordered at a time when the successful completion and rollout of the various vaccine candidates was far from certain, but this seems excessive. It is also in spite of the fact that Canada has signed up for, and pledged $440 million towards, the COVAX vaccine access facility, which is designed to ensure an equitable worldwide rollout of the much-needed vaccines. However, this is only expected to cover around 20% of the developing world's needs, and only three or four vaccine producers are involved (and, notably, not the front-runner mRNA-type vaccines).

Meanwhile, poorer countries, particularly those in Africa, worry that they may not be able to obtain enough vaccine as a result of this "hoarding" by wealthy countries. There are concerns that virus could become endemic across Africa and other parts of the developing world.

A scheme, similar to one established in the 2001 Doha Declaration for the AIDS vaccine, to waive intellectual property rules to allow developing countries to produce their own supplies of the vaccines, instigated by South Africa and India and supported by over 100 countries, has been effectively blocked by a group of wealthy countries including the EU, UK, USA, Switzerland, Japan, Brazil and, yes, Canada. 

This is not a good look on Canada.

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