Canada promises 73 million more COVID-19 vaccine doses for the developing world

October 30, 2021
Canada promises 73 million more COVID-19 vaccine doses for the developing world

Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland said Saturday that Canada will donate millions more COVID-19 vaccine doses to a global vaccine-sharing initiative as rich countries scramble to send more shots to the developing world to help curb stubbornly high case counts.

Speaking to reporters on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Rome, Freeland said Canada is boosting its existing commitment to COVAX, a vaccine distribution program co-ordinated by the World Health Organization and other groups, by some 73 million more shots to ensure COVID-19 vaccines are more readily available worldwide.

Saturday’s announcement is in addition to the 127 million doses previously promised by Canada to COVAX.

Of the 73 million committed on Saturday, Canada will immediately contribute 10 million doses of Moderna to the vaccine-sharing alliance — product previously allocated to Canada that will now be redistributed to other countries in need. Canada will then supply cash to COVAX so it can procure 63 million more doses by the end of 2022 — a total commitment of up to 200 million doses.

The issue of vaccine equity is a top agenda item at this two-day gathering of the world’s largest economies. The Italian summit, the first major in-person meeting since the pandemic began nearly two years ago, has also been convened to address climate issues and pandemic-fuelled economic troubles such as inflation and supply chain disruptions.

While wealthy countries have fared well in procuring effective, life-saving vaccines such as those offered by AstraZeneca, Pfizer and Moderna, low- and middle-income countries have consistently struggled with access.

At the outset of the pandemic, COVAX was created to equitably distribute shots, but it has been hampered by supply constraints — rich countries have stockpiled vaccines — and delivery issues in countries on the African continent and elsewhere.

Based on research compiled by former British prime minister Gordon Brown, who is leading a coalition of former world leaders advocating for the better distribution of shots, Canada, the United States, the European Union and Britain have a combined total of more than 240 million unused vaccines on hand.

At the same time, fewer than four per cent of people in low-income countries are fully vaccinated.

In a letter to Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi ahead of the G20 summit, Brown said this sort of lopsided vaccine access is “plaguing the planet.”

Draghi signalled on Saturday that he’s heard the calls for co-ordinated action out of the summit he’s hosting. An economist by training, the Italian leader said stalled vaccination rates are a human tragedy that leave the poorest more susceptible to a deadly disease, as well as being a drag on the global economy.

“These differences are morally unacceptable and undermine the global recovery. We must do all we can to reach 70 per cent by mid-2022,” Draghi said at the opening ceremony, referring to a World Health Organization goal to get everyone worldwide at least one shot by next year.

Freeland’s commitment isn’t the first time Canada has offered shots to those in need. Earlier this year, Canada promised 40 million doses to COVAX, including some of the product it agreed to buy from companies such as AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson and Novavax. The government has also earmarked more than $500 million in cash to help COVAX buy 87 million doses and improve its delivery process.

However, according to government data, fewer than three million of the shots Canada has donated have actually made it into the arms of people in the world’s poorest countries.

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