As Canada’s rate of administered COVID-19 vaccine doses continues to climb, several experts and advocates are pointing to a glaring gap of vaccine inequity worldwide — and are urging Canada to consider sharing its supply.
“Among rich countries, Canada has bought more vaccines than anyone else in the world — enough to vaccinate Canadians five times,” ONE Canada director Stuart Hickox told Global News on Thursday.
Hickox and ONE Canada are among several calling for Canada and other rich countries with ample supply to vaccines to start thinking of a way to share doses with populations that don’t have nearly enough access to them.
Canada has already ordered more than 400 million vaccines according to Public Services and Procurement, of which over 28.1 million have since been delivered, and nearly 25 million administered.
Though nearly three out of five Canadians have received their first dose and just over 6.3 per cent are now fully vaccinated, several analysts are pointing to an inevitable slump in demand once certain vaccine targets are reached.
“Vaccine uptake will inevitably wane within the next couple months,” said Dionne M. Aleman, an associate professor of industrial engineering at the University of Toronto in an email Thursday.
While there have been no plans yet from the federal government as to whether Canada will be sharing their vaccines, Aleman said that her guess at when Canada could start sharing its surplus would be by the fall.
Aleman said that Canadians who wanted their two shots will “in all likelihood” have received them by late September, and that the country would probably have enough supply to support any remaining second doses.
The calls for vaccine sharing come on the heels of an announcement from the U.S. on Thursday which designated several countries — including Canada — to be among a priority for sharing their surplus of vaccines.
The U.S. also designated 75 per cent of its surplus vaccines to go towards the WHO and GAVI-run COVAX vaccine program.
Canada has since faced blistering criticism over being the only G7 country to have accessed vaccine doses through COVAX, which many have pointed to as being a vaccine reserve for poorer countries.
Hickox said that while Canada was still entitled to receiving the vaccines from the program, the time has now come for Canada and the international community to start giving doses back to COVAX after having bought up most of the supply around the world.
Last week, the head of the World Health Organization pinned the enduring prevalence of COVID-19 in hotspots around the world as being perpetuated by a “scandalous inequity” in vaccine distribution.
WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said then that over 75 per cent of all vaccines had been administered in just 10 countries, pointing to a small group of nations that make and buy the majority of the world’s supply.
“The point is, it’s not about deciding who gets them first, it’s the most vulnerable in every country and every community that needs these doses — the front-line workers, the health workers,” said Hickox.
“So it’s just not equal right now. We need to level the playing field by deciding how we can share these doses back.”
Both Hickox and Aleman also pointed to how equitable vaccine access could benefit Canada from a public health perspective.
Focusing on aiding countries with a lot of travellers to Canada could better stem the country’s COVID-19 case counts said Aleman, who pointed to loosening travel restrictions.
Hickox, on the other hand, warned of the possibility of new variants having been created in other, under-vaccinated countries and potentially triggering another surge in cases.
UCLA epidemiologist and professor Dr. Anne Rimoin shared the same concerns as well, pointing to the virus’ opportunity for “mutation” every time it finds a new host.
“If we want to be able to preserve the effectiveness of the vaccines that we have currently now, we want to reduce the amount of time that this virus is circulating globally,” Rimoin said.
“We need to focus on getting vaccines out to every country that needs it — not just the wealthy countries.”
Hickox said that while it was a great signal that the Biden administration announced their plans to share surplus vaccines, he doubled down on the need for Canada to do the same very soon.
“Frankly, the international community is waiting for that kind of signal from Canada,” he said, noting how the country has secured more doses per person than any other in the world.
“The world is watching us, you know. Our reputation is at stake.”
— With files from Jackson Proskow and Twinkle Ghosh