The government says its contribution to the COVAX vaccine program has “always been intended” to secure additional coronavirus vaccine access for Canada, on top of supporting vaccination rollouts in lower-income countries.
“COVAX is not a fund for developing countries only but a mechanism to ensure equitable access to vaccines for all countries that are participating in it, including Canada,” Guillaume Dumas, a spokesperson for International Development Minister Karina Gould, said in a statement emailed to Global News.
The comment comes on the heels of criticism directed at the government over the news that Canada is the only country in the G7 to draw vaccines from the fund, which was established “to guarantee fair and equitable (vaccine) access for every country in the world.”
“The COVAX vaccines were a way the developed countries, like Canada, were helping poorer countries have access to vaccines,” Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole said in a Thursday press conference.
“The very fact that Canada is the only G7 country asking the COVAX consortium for vaccines is a demonstration that we have no plan, and Canadians need vaccines to get the country working to secure our future.”
Canada is slated to receive a minimum of 1.9 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine as a part of the COVAX fund. Maj-Gen. Dany Fortin, who is leading the logistics of Canada’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout, added on Thursday that this number may increase to as many as three million doses.
While Canada is the only G7 national availing itself of these vaccine doses, other countries that are not considered lower income are also receiving doses from the fund. Singapore and New Zealand are both receiving over 200,000 doses each from the fund.
In addition to that, eight G20 nations are getting vaccine doses from COVAX – including Canada, India, Mexico, Brazil and South Korea.
Still, O’Toole slammed Prime Minister Justin Trudeau as having “no plan,” saying that a lack of proper planning is the reason Canada is “taking vaccines from a multi-country fund that was intended to help poorer countries.”
Dumas pushed back on this criticism in his statement.
“We’ve been clear from the start. Canada is strongly determined to vaccinate Canadians while making sure that the rest of the world is not getting left behind. Our participation into COVAX is a concrete example of that,” Dumas said.
“Our contribution to the global mechanism had always been intended to access vaccine doses for Canadians as well as to support lower income countries.”
Dumas said Canada made a different investment to ensure that lower-income countries have access to vaccines – and that isn’t where Canada’s vaccines are coming from.
“We made a separate contribution to the mechanism’s Advanced Market Commitment specifically for vaccine access in lower income countries. We are not using a specific fund made for developing countries,” he said.
O’Toole has been a vocal critic of the vaccine rollout since day one, repeatedly accusing the Liberal government of not having a vaccine plan.
However, when pressed multiple times on Thursday as to whether he would have accepted the COVAX fund vaccine doses, he refused to answer the question.
“It’s hard for me to divorce the inaction of the government over the last 10 months with what I would do today. We would not be in this position today,” O’Toole said.
Experts have warned that until the entire world is able to access a vaccine, Canada will remain stuck in a small “bubble” – even if our population is fully vaccinated.
“It’s the old adage, ‘No one is safe until everyone is safe,’” Raywat Deonandan, an epidemiologist with the University of Ottawa, told Global News in December.
“We cannot get close to the eradication of coronavirus unless vaccines are made available to everyone.”
It’s a message Dumas echoed in his Thursday statement.
“We’re having a comprehensive approach to fighting the pandemic,” he said.
“As we know that the virus won’t be defeated until it is defeated everywhere.”
— With a file from Global News’ Katie DangerfieldView link »