Thursday, February 04, 2021

Canada embarrasses itself by plundering its COVAX contribution

Canada's COVID-19 vaccine rollout is not, it has to be said, going particularly well, although it's not going as disastrously as opposition politicians would have you think, and it's mainly the fault of the vaccine manufacturers rather than anything our various governments are doing wrong.

That said, the latest news has me shaking my head. Canada signed up with the WHO-sponsored COVAX program last September, and this seemed like a good and worthy thing to do. The program pools funds from wealthy countries to help buy vaccines for 92 low- and middle-income countries that can't afford to buy for themselves. However, the program also allows countries to dip into the funds for themselves - why? I have no idea - and Canada has decided in its wisdom that it needs to do just that. 

So, Canada, a G7 country, is to take 1.9 million doses of AstraZeneca vaccine out of its COVAX pledge (when we finally get around to approving that vaccine, that is), despite having already ordered 20 million doses of that vaccine through regular commercial channels, and having ordered enough doses from seven different conpanies to vaccinate the entire population at least four times over.

That's 1.9 million doses that will not therefore be available to poor developing countries in Africa, Asia and South America.  A spokesperson for the International Development Ministry explained, "Our contribution to the global mechanism has always been intended to access vaccine doses for Canadians as well as to support lower-income countries" - as though that makes things any better!

From the other point of view, a spokesperson for Gavi, the vaccine alliance that is coordinating the COVAX program, explained, "Does it help when countries that have a lot of bilateral deals don't take doses? Of course it helps, because then there are more doses available for others". Clearly, Gavi was not anticipating "donor" countries taking doses for themselves out of the scheme, even if there is the facility to do that. And these doses are not goong to arrive anytime soon, so they are not going to help Canada's current vaccine crunch.

Canada is not the only rich country to exercise its options under the scheme - New Zealand and Singapore are also on that list - but it is the largest and richest. It's a mite embarrassing.

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