Canada should give surplus doses to poorer countries, say global vaccine alliance and WHO

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GAVI, The Vaccine Alliance board chair Jose Manuel Barroso and the WHO are urging Canada to donate vaccine doses as soon as possible. (REUTERS - image credit)
GAVI, The Vaccine Alliance board chair Jose Manuel Barroso and the WHO are urging Canada to donate vaccine doses as soon as possible. (REUTERS - image credit)

The chair of the international alliance that co-manages the COVAX vaccine-sharing program is urging wealthy nations to donate surplus doses to developing countries.

Canada this week doubled its direct cash commitment to COVAX to help buy COVID-19 vaccines for the global sharing program — but it isn't sending any doses, despite pleas from officials for help.

Former Portuguese prime minister José Manuel Barroso is the chair of Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, which co-leads COVAX. He told guest host David Common on CBC News Network's Power & Politics that while he understands governments were focused on protecting their own citizens when the pandemic began, they have a larger responsibility to the world now.

"What we are now doing is asking those who have surplus doses to share them as well, because there is a fundamental injustice here," Barroso said.

The World Health Organization's technical lead, Maria Van Kerkhove, is also urging Canada to donate doses to the COVAX scheme.

"We really need doses to be shared through the COVAX mechanism," she told Power & Politics. "It is time for countries to donate the available doses that they can."

Barroso did express gratitude for Canada's support for COVAX to date. He said "each government, of course, has the right to define" when they believe they have a surplus — "but we believe the sooner the better."

COVAX falls behind on pledge to deliver 2 billion vaccines

Barroso acknowledged COVAX is running behind on its timeline for delivering vaccines to developing countries — something he attributed to the dire state of the pandemic in India and a lack of shipments from that country's Serum Institute, COVAX's largest single supplier.

Barroso said he believes COVAX can catch up if wealthy countries donate their surplus doses.

U.S. President Joe Biden today announced the U.S. would donate 19 million COVID-19 vaccines to COVAX, with millions more to follow.

Along with pledges from the EU and other nations, the U.S. donation "makes the total amount of doses to be shared through COVAX 132 million," Barroso said.

He estimated that the "acute phase of the pandemic can be controlled" by 2022 — but warned there's also a strong risk of the pandemic becoming something "endemic" the world would have to live with for many years.

Van Kerkhove agreed, saying that the pace of vaccination around the world will decide the fate of efforts to slow the virus's spread.

"The inequitable distribution of vaccines is really still quite grotesque," she said.

"People say no one is safe until everyone is safe," said Barroso. "This is not a slogan, because the more time the virus will be circulating, the more probable there will be mutations and also possible new variants that are more transmissible and more dangerous.

"It's in the interest also of the developed world to help the others. Not only as a fundamental question of justice and ethics, but also in our own interest, if we want to get rid of this terrible pandemic."

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