The head of an organization working to strengthen pandemic preparedness called on vaccine-rich countries to "stand up and show courage" by donating more COVID-19 vaccines to developing nations, ahead of a meeting between leaders of Group of Seven (G7) countries starting Friday in the U.K.
Dr. Richard Hatchett, CEO of the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, said in an interview on Rosemary Barton Live on Sunday he was seeing strong momentum for a multilateral approach to the ending the global COVID-19 pandemic.
"I think the G7 summit represents a critical, really once in a generation, meeting where the G7 is meeting in the midst of a global crisis," he told CBC chief political correspondent Rosemary Barton.
"And I do think they need to come out with a strong statement in support of multilateral action to help in the pandemic, whether that is a specific number of doses or simply strong statements of commitment to contributing to this is contributing resources to help fund global vaccine efforts."
Canada recently doubled its financial commitment to the COVAX facility, a global vaccine sharing program aimed primarily at helping low and middle-income countries access doses. Canada has taken doses for itself from the facility.
International Development Minister Karina Gould said Canada would up its contribution by $220 million — but would not send any doses this month. A statement released this week signed by 32 international agencies and organizations called on Canada to donate four million doses to COVAX before the end of this month.
In the past few days, Canada has become one of the top countries in the world in terms of percentage of population with at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. As of Sunday, over 61 per cent of Canadians have received at least one dose, according to a CBC News tracker.
Hatchett urged Canada to share as many doses as possible as soon as possible in order to minimize global deaths. "I think there's a strong moral imperative to get vaccine globally to health-care workers and to the most vulnerable populations," he said.
Canada began to administer vaccines to people 12 years of age and older last month.
U.K. calls for acceleration, U.S. announces sharing plan
The United States recently announced details of its plans to share vaccines, with 19 million doses set to go to the COVAX program and another six million split between U.S. allies and partners — including Canada.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson told Barton last week the world needed to accelerate the global vaccination effort to finish next year. "Nobody is safe until everybody is safe," Johnson said.
"What we want the G7 to try to agree to is that instead of vaccinating the whole world by 2024 or 2025, which is … what we'd achieve on the current timetable, we need to get this done by the end of next year, by 2022."
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But despite recent plans and assertions of global solidarity from leaders of developed countries, only a relative handful of vaccinations have occurred outside of the world's richest nations. Of 1.8 billion doses administered worldwide, just 0.4 per cent have been in low-income countries, World Health Organization Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said last week.
"This is ethically, epidemiologically and economically unacceptable," he said in a statement.
An analysis commissioned by UNICEF suggests G7 countries and EU nations could donate 153 million vaccine doses over the summer if they shared 20 per cent of their supply during that period.
Variants could pose global threat, expert says
Hatchett also told Barton that the decision by the U.S. in May to temporarily end patent protections for COVID-19 vaccines was "an electrifying change of direction from the United States."
But he cautioned that the change would not in itself solve the global disparity in vaccine access, saying there wouldn't be a change in availability for at least "12 to 18 months."
"And there are other steps that we can take now that we must take to increase availability globally much sooner than that," he said.
Hatchett said that the most concerning recent development in the pandemic was the emergence of coronavirus variants, including those that recent research suggests could be more transmissible.
"The longer we allow the pandemic to go on essentially unchecked in many parts of the world, the more we face risks that a variant will emerge that will completely evade the vaccines that we have and set us all back at Square 1," he said.
You can watch full episodes of Rosemary Barton Live on CBC Gem, the CBC's streaming service.