Canada will donate its extra doses of COVID-19 vaccines to lower income countries, International Aid Minister Karina Gould confirmed Friday.
But when those donations begin remains unclear.
“I am pleased to confirm that just last night our prime minister confirmed that we would absolutely be donating any excess capacity that Canada has,” Gould told a virtual press briefing Friday about the efforts to secure quick and equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines for countries around the world.
But, in an answer to a question about whether Canada would wait until its population is vaccinated to begin donating or until priority populations are vaccinated, Gould said “we will be taking it one day at a time.”
Canada has signed agreements with seven manufacturers, to purchase more vaccine doses per capita than any country in the world, enough to vaccinate the population several times over. Some have criticized wealthy countries for snapping up vaccines at the expense of lower income countries.
She noted that Canada just has approval for one vaccine right now — the messenger RNA vaccine from Pfizer-BioNTech — and that the first doses are “just starting to arrive.”
On Friday, Canada was part of an announcement that COVAX, a global collaboration to get COVID-19 vaccines to poorer countries, now has agreements in place to access nearly two billion doses of several vaccine candidates, which should be enough to protect the most vulnerable in eligible countries during the first half of 2021.
Canada had earlier pledged $485 million to support COVID-19 tests, treatments and vaccines in low and middle income countries. Seventy-five million of that supports the delivery of COVID-19 vaccines in lower income countries through the global vaccine alliance GAVI, which co-leads the COVAX initiative. That money includes a $5-million investment in the development of a system to equitably reallocate vaccine doses through COVAX, either by donation or exchange.
COVAX published guidelines Friday for how those donations from wealthier countries should work.
Key to those recommendations is that the donated vaccines should be available early.
“Shared doses should be made available as soon as possible and ideally concurrently by the sharing country as it receives vaccines to increase equitable access and have maximum impact. Dose sharing should begin very early in 2021.”
The guidelines also recommend that intentions to share doses should be made early enough that they can be shipped directly to the country receiving the donation to allow for rapid deployment and maximize shelf life and that donations are made in “substantive quantities.”
France has also announced it will donate excess vaccines.
Global health officials have long pushed for equitable access to the vaccine and treatments.
“The arrival of vaccines is giving all of us a glimpse of the light at the end of the tunnel,” said Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director general of the World Health Organization.
“But we will only truly end the pandemic if we end it everywhere at the same time, which means it’s essential to vaccinate some people in all countries, rather than all people in some countries.”
Gould echoed that.
“The COVID-19 pandemic will only be overcome when we come together around the world and make sure that no one is left behind.”
On Friday, COVAX announced it has agreements in place to access nearly two billion doses of several promising vaccine candidates, in addition to laying the groundwork for contributions through donor countries including Canada.