Canada has secured enough potential coronavirus vaccines to fully protect every resident nearly seven times over, even as a global shortage has forced poorer nations to wait.
After initial hiccups with its vaccination plan, more than 65% of Canadians have now received at least one dose, edging ahead of early leaders Israel and the UK, and on Friday, Justin Trudeau said 68m doses will have arrived in Canada by the end of July.
But a recent pledge by Canada to donate 100m doses to hard-hit countries, has highlighted persistent questions about its commitment to addressing such inequities.
“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,” said Trudeau at the G7 summit last week.
Details of the deliveries, however, remain unclear, and of the 100m pledged, 87m doses reflect previously announced funding commitments – not actual physical doses ready to ship. Only 13m actual new doses will be sent to nations in need.
“This isn’t this isn’t new money, and the vaccines don’t seem to be starting to move immediately, so it feels a little bit too little too late,” said Isha Berry, a PhD candidate in epidemiology at the University of Toronto.
Although large orders from Pfizer and Moderna are arriving each week in Canada, Trudeau’s government instead offered other vaccines.
Many are from Novavax, a company whose vaccine has not yet been approved for use in Canada. The remainder are doses that Canada bought through global vaccine-sharing initiative Covax: from AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson, the latter of which has been temporarily suspended in Canada over quality concerns.
Experts say there is an urgent need to shift resources to countries to effectively combat the growing threat of more infectious variants of the coronavirus. But many argue that the existing mechanism for vaccine-sharing has fallen short.
“Covax ‘was a beautiful idea, born out of solidarity. Unfortunately, it didn’t happen. Rich countries have behaved worse than anyone’s worst nightmares’,” tweeted the medical journal the Lancet.
Canada has previously faced criticism as the only G7 nation to draw on the stockpile of donated vaccines meant for poor and middle-income countries.
Trudeau’s announcement also reflected a fraught context of vaccine nationalism.
According to recent polling from Abacus Data, 61% of Canadians believe that it is “morally wrong that people living in richer countries have access to vaccines before those in poorer countries”.
But a survey from the Angus Reid Institute suggests nearly three quarters of Canadians also believe the government should “focus its efforts at home rather than abroad”.
Berry cautions against the mentality of pitting countries against each especially when so many nations lack the ability to buy doses directly from manufacturers.
“The current global vaccine gap is far worse than most Canadians probably realize,” said Berry. Officials from the World Health Organization have said the pandemic will persist until 70% of the population is vaccinated – a distant goal given current pledges by wealthy nations.
Canada’s contributions come nowhere close to the 11bn doses needed globally, but Berry says Canada can nonetheless play a key role by advocating for vaccine patent waivers and helping other nations building capacity.
“We all really want to end this pandemic. Everyone’s so tired. But I think there’s also a gap in our global understanding of how bad the global inequities actually are.”