Canada to donate almost 18 million surplus AstraZeneca doses to low- and middle-income countries

·4 min read
A health-care worker holds up a vial of the AstraZeneca Covishield vaccine at a vaccination clinic in Montreal in March. The federal government says it will donate 17.7 million doses of the vaccine to the COVAX vaccine-sharing initiative.  (Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press - image credit)
A health-care worker holds up a vial of the AstraZeneca Covishield vaccine at a vaccination clinic in Montreal in March. The federal government says it will donate 17.7 million doses of the vaccine to the COVAX vaccine-sharing initiative. (Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press - image credit)

Canada is donating 17.7 million doses of the AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine to help inoculate people in low- and middle-income countries, federal ministers announced Monday.

International Development Minister Karina Gould and Procurement Minister Anita Anand said the doses are a part of the federal government's advance purchase agreement with the company and would be distributed through COVAX.

COVAX is a global vaccine-sharing initiative jointly co-ordinated by the World Health Organization, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations and Gavi, The Vaccine Alliance.

The program pools funds from wealthier countries to buy vaccines for those countries and ensure that low- and middle-income countries have access to vaccines as well. This new donation is on top of the $440 million the federal government already has committed to COVAX.

"This donation is a result of our proactive approach to securing hundreds of millions of COVID-19 vaccines in our initial contracts. With close to 55 million vaccines in Canada, and with the demands of the provinces and territories for this vaccine being met, we are now in a position to donate these excess doses," Anand said.

The federal government also announced it's partnering with UNICEF on a donation-matching fundraising campaign to encourage Canadians to donate vaccine doses by contributing $10.

All donations by Canadians will be matched by the federal government, up to a maximum of $10 million. The campaign runs until Sept. 6 and people can donate via UNICEF or by texting VACCINES to 45678.

Anand and Gould said that if the UNICEF campaign is maxed out, it will provide enough money to vaccinate four million people in countries where inoculation campaigns are struggling to meet demand.

Canadians well stocked with vaccine: Anand

Anand said 79 per cent of eligible Canadians have received at least one dose of a vaccine and 55 per cent are now fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

She said the federal government is also holding a reserve of three millions doses of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, which she said the provinces have asked the federal government to hang on to until they're ready to take delivery.

WATCH | Canada to donate nearly 18 million AstraZeneca vaccines:

Anand said the provinces told the Public Health Agency of Canada that they have all the AstraZeneca they need, which allowed the federal government to make the donation.

The ministers said that the AstraZeneca doses are coming from the advance purchase agreement the government struck with the company and that these doses, which will be manufactured in the United States, will start being delivered to COVAX in the coming weeks.

Conservative MP Garnett Genuis said the federal government should not be exporting vaccines that "it does not recommend for Canadians."

Sending AstraZeneca abroad

"The government needs to clarify how they view the AstraZeneca vaccine, whether they believe that it is as effective as other brands, and why they are choosing to transfer this brand as opposed to others," Genuis said in a media statement.

The Public Health Agency of Canada and the National Advisory Committee on Immunization have both said that mRNA vaccines such as Moderna or Pfizer are "preferable" to AstraZeneca's product, although all three are approved for use in Canada.

The two agencies said mRNA vaccines are preferable in response to evidence suggesting that, in rare cases, the AstraZeneca vaccine could cause potentially fatal blood clots in some people.

Health Canada says the AstraZeneca vaccine is 81.6 per cent effective two weeks after the second dose of the vaccine when those doses were administered 12 weeks apart.

Gould addressed the suggestion that Canada was only giving away vaccines it does not want, saying the AstraZeneca product is an effective vaccine that remains in high demand.

"Pretty much every area of the developing world is seeing an increase in COVID-19 and so they are looking to get as many effective, approved vaccines as possible to administer to deal with this new wave of COVID-19," Gould said.

UNICEF Canada's president and CEO David Morley said that because AstraZeneca can be stored in a regular refrigerator — while mRNA vaccines must be kept in extra-cold conditions — AstraZeneca is easier to administer in the developing world.

WATCH | Which country will receive Canada's donation of 17.7 million vaccines:

Last month, at the close of the G7 summit in Cornwall, England, G7 leaders announced a collective agreement to provide more than two billion doses of COVID-19 vaccines to the developing world. Canada's share of that commitment was 100 million doses.

Gould told reporters in Ottawa Monday that the 17.7 million AstraZeneca doses being donated through COVAX will be in addition to that 100 million dose commitment.

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