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The Vaccine Access Test: Is Canada committed to global vaccine fairness?


Are the actions of world leaders and pharmaceutical companies resulting in rich countries hoarding possible vaccines? Or are rich countries making sure that those who need a vaccine most (front-line workers and medical personnel), get a vaccine first?

These questions are what ONE’s Vaccine Access Test is all about. By asking these questions, we can make sure countries like Canada follow best practices and evidence-based medical research.

Fair global distribution of COVID-19 vaccines will end the pandemic faster for everyone, saving lives and helping economies recover.

Those most at risk of catching and spreading the virus, and those most vulnerable to its effects, must have access first, regardless of nationality or wealth. This is what scientist say will reduce overall transmission the fastest. It is also the right thing to do.

How is Canada scoring on the Vaccine Access Test?

Click to see Canada’s score

The answer is… Canada has taken great steps to promote fair access to COVID-19 vaccines globally but there is still a lot of work to do. Canada gets a score of 6.7 points out of a potential 15, halfway to fully commit to global vaccine fairness.

Especially towards the end of the year, Minister Karina Gould and her colleagues stepped up in a big way, investing in the global pandemic response and recognizing the need for a coordinated recovery plan.

As vaccine delivery started around the world, most countries and companies are still not doing enough to ensure that this is done fairly. Despite strong statements in favour of global access, many rich countries—including Canada—have been competing to buy-up as many doses as possible, even before a vaccine is ready. Wealthy nations representing just 13% of the world’s population have already cornered about half of the promised doses of leading COVID-19 vaccine candidates.

The Vaccine Access Test measures (1) support to the COVID-19 Tools Accelerator (ACT-A), (2) multilateral leadership, (3) policies on equity, and (4) bilateral deals with pharmaceutical companies.

On the plus side: Canada does well on multilateral leadership. We have committed around 90% of our fair share to the ACT-Accelerator, the only mechanism positioned to deliver a coordinated global response on vaccines, tests and treatments. We have also officially joined the COVAX Facility, the global cooperation mechanism to accelerate the development and manufacture of COVID-19 vaccines, and to provide fair and equitable access around the world. Prime Minister Trudeau has also spoken out in favor of global equitable access on numerous occasions, including in a Washington Post op-ed published in July. On the domestic side, Canada has released a preliminary guidance on priority distribution of vaccines.

On the ‘good but need to do more’ side: Prime Minister Trudeau has committed to sharing excess doses with COVAX but needs to provide the details as soon as possible.

On the minus side: Canada does not have requirements on transparency and equitable access when they award R&D contracts and has not endorsed the WHO Solidarity Call to Action which calls for the pooling of knowledge, intellectual property and data on COVID-19 medical research.

Canada needs to do better on communicating how its bilateral deals with pharmaceutical companies and its sharing of excess vaccines can align with the Prime Minister’s commitments to global equitable access.

Right now, the average score of all seven deals Canada secured is 0.7, which drags down Canada’s overall standing on the Vaccine Access Test. This is because there is no public information on cost, and the delivery schedule, which could allow for a more equitable distribution of the initial doses available.

Now, let’s be clear. It is impressive that Canada struck all these bilateral deals. Canadians would be right to feel re-assured that our Government worked hard to make sure that we will have access to a COVID-19 vaccine. But we did go overboard a bit: there are enough potential doses to vaccinate each Canadian (with a double dose) 5 times! Just with the two vaccines already approved in Canada (Pfizer and Moderna), there will be enough doses to vaccinate all Canadians who want to be by September. What will happen to the millions of other doses we ordered from other suppliers, if and when they prove effective? Will they end up going bad in Canadian warehouses or will we share them with countries that need them the most?

Right now, a limited supply is the biggest barrier to fair global access to vaccines. In fact, the World Health Organization warns of a “catastrophic moral failure” as wealthy nations adopting a “me first” approach could hinder equitable vaccine distribution and prolong the pandemic.

Science tells us that to save the most lives and end the pandemic sooner, it would be more efficient to first vaccinate the most at-risk (ex. essential workers, the elderly) in all countries, rather than 100% in a few rich countries. Expert modelling suggests that if vaccines are distributed more equitably in all countries, it could save almost twice as many lives as if only rich countries have access to the first doses.

While Prime Minister Trudeau stated his intention to share Canada’s excess vaccines through COVAX, there are no details on when this would happen, and for how many doses. In contrast, Norway committed to share vaccines in parallel to their own vaccination campaign. Time is pressing. Doctors and nurses in developing countries cannot wait until 2022 to get vaccinated. Canada should clarify its sharing plan as soon as possible.

How can Canada improve on its score on the Vaccine Access Test?

The Vaccine Access Test is intended to start conversations and even debates around how to end this pandemic, and lead to concrete actions that move us collectively in the right direction. Canada’s rather low score is not set in stone—in fact, we are confident it can improve over the next weeks and months.

Here is what Canada can do to improve its score:

  • Provide details on how excess vaccines can be shared and commit to donating as soon as possible, in parallel to its national vaccination campaign. (+1 point)
  • Publish more information on the deals it makes with pharmaceutical companies, including the cost (+1-3 points)
  • Support the WHO Solidarity Call to Action (+1 point)

So, let’s keep talking, and let’s keep improving. Because none of us are safe until all of us are safe.

Sign the petition to call on governments and pharmaceutical companies to share knowledge and data.

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