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Why jumping the coronavirus vaccine queue is a problem

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As coronavirus vaccines continue to roll out to high-priority vulnerable groups in Canada, it might be a few months until a young, healthy adult would be able to get vaccinated against COVID-19.

Kerry Bowman, a bioethicist at the University of Toronto, says in the short term, there won’t be any jumping of the queue or preferential VIP treatment, but private sales may happen once the rollout is extensive.

Read more: Provinces urge feds to ramp up rapid testing at airports amid new COVID-19 variant

“It’s very ethically problematic if sports teams and individuals are vaccinated first,” he told Global News.

“We’re in a global emergency. If you were to absorb several hundred vaccines for a sports team, for example, you could literally be costing other vulnerable people their lives.”

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Canada has so far approved two vaccines — by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna. Pfizer says it is focusing on selling its doses to governments while Moderna did not respond immediately to an emailed request by Global News for comment on any private sales.

The companies have entered into contracts with the federal government, which in turn is allocating the vaccine doses to the provinces and territories.

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Up to 249,000 doses of Pfizer’s vaccine are expected to be delivered in December and another 500,000 by the end of January. A total of 168,000 doses of Moderna’s vaccine are also expected by the end of 2020.

Given the limited supply in the initial stages of the rollout, private companies and individuals have a small window of opportunity to get their hands early on the doses, if they wish to do so, said Anita Ho, an associate professor of bioethics and health services research at the University of British Columbia.

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Read more: Bill Kelly: Hey NHL, stand in line for your vaccines

So, if you’re a private business owner, a celebrity, professional athlete, frequent traveller or anyone looking to directly purchase the vaccine from the drug makers, for now, you will just have to wait your turn like the rest of the general public.

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“I see vaccines as a public good and if we are allowing people to purchase, whether it’s companies or individuals, then we can be exacerbating the existing inequity in Canada already,” Ho told Global News.

Vaccinating the VIPs – is it inevitable?

Earlier this month, the National Hockey League faced some backlash on social media after a report it was planning to privately purchase doses of a COVID-19 vaccine for all parties involved in the upcoming 2021 season.

John Shannon, an NHL insider and long-time hockey reporter, tweeted the report, noting that it’s only an interest of the NHL at this point, “when and if it’s available for private purchase.”

“The league also is adamant that they would not jump the line to do so,” he added.

The NHL has not officially commented on the report.

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American pharmaceutical company Pfizer says while it “appreciates the interest” it is focusing on selling the highly coveted and limited doses of its coronavirus vaccine to governments, not private corporations, including the NHL.

In an interview earlier this month with Global News, Pfizer Canada CEO Cole Pinnow said: “Right now, we are fully committed and built our global supply plan based upon the contracts that we’ve signed with governments, and so we’re really deferring to the governments to figure out what the best way is to allocate their product.”

More vaccines could mean more opportunity for private sales

Canada is also currently reviewing clinical data from Johnson and Johnson and AstraZeneca, so more vaccines are in the pipeline.

As there is no law or regulation prohibiting the private sales of vaccines, experts say there is still a possibility of corporations and interested buyers getting the doses directly from the drug makers.

Read more: Ian McKellen, Biden — and Trudeau? Experts torn on when VIPs should get COVID-19 shot

“This is a political, economic and social judgment about the inequities in vaccine distribution, which are going to be apparent where there is a free market economy, where vaccines could be sold for the highest going price to people who have privileged access to them,” Dr. Mark Poznansky, director of the Vaccine and Immunotherapy Center at Massachusetts General Hospital, said.

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According to Canada’s federal health minister, the Canadian government cannot stop private corporations from buying doses of any approved coronavirus vaccine directly from its manufacturers.

In a weekly COVID-19 briefing in Ottawa on Dec. 11, Patty Hajdu said that Canada does not have any “mechanisms to block corporations from purchasing” a vaccine or vaccine candidate “on a contractual basis.”

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Given the scarcity of doses in the initial stage of the country’s rollout, Bowman said the health authorities can enforce regulations to prevent private sales.

“I don’t think there should be any private sales at this point,” he said.

In the United States, more than two million Americans have received their first dose of COVID-19 vaccines, compared with an estimated 58,818 people in Canada.

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Read more: U.S. is planning to vaccinate 39 million more people than Canada this year. Here’s why

Recent reports suggest older Canadians who spend their winters in Florida and Arizona may be able to get vaccinated sooner down south than they would at home.

Martin Firestone, a travel insurance agent in Toronto, told CTV News and the Globe and Mail he has received calls from clients showing interest in making the trip to Florida to get the highly coveted shot.

Meanwhile, Canada is prioritizing the vaccines for front-line health workers, long-term care residents and workers, the elderly and Indigenous communities.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, citing the country’s top doctors, says a majority of Canadians should be vaccinated against the coronavirus by next September.

“Nothing any private company or organization can negotiate, if they choose to do so, will in any way impact or slow down the delivery of vaccines to Canadians for free — with vulnerable Canadians at the front of that line,” he said earlier this month.

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