Canada urged to avoid ‘vaccine nationalism’ in race for COVID-19 cure

Canada urged to avoid ‘vaccine nationalism’ in race for COVID-19 cure

OTTAWA — A top American health expert is praising Canada for not succumbing to “vaccine nationalism” because of its efforts to push for fair global distribution of a cure for the COVID-19 pandemic.

Thomas Bollyky, director of the global health program at the Washington-based Council on Foreign Relations, says that sets Canada apart from the United States and European countries that are making moves to pre-buy massive amounts of potentially viable vaccines for their own populations.

Bollyky says that amounts to hoarding and would undermine joint efforts to neutralize COVID-19 in rich and poor countries alike.

“Canada has a record to be proud of in this pandemic,” Bollyky, who also teaches law at Georgetown University, said in an interview.

His own government, however, needs to do a lot better, Bollyky co-wrote in an essay to be published next month in the journal Foreign Affairs.

The perspective comes as the Trudeau government faces questions from health-care experts about why it is not doing more to fund domestic vaccine research to prevent Canadians from having to wait in line, potentially for months, for a pandemic cure that might be found in another country.

One senator and some health-care professionals are urging Innovation Minister Navdeep Bains to stop delaying a decision on the $35-million pitch by Toronto-based Providence Therapeutics to begin human trials of a new, experimental vaccine technology that has been heavily funded in the United States.

Providence says it would share its expertise internationally and could potentially deliver five million doses of a vaccine to Canadians by mid-2021, but it can’t move forward with testing or manufacturing without funding.

Bollyky said he doesn’t know anything about the Providence proposal, but he made clear that countries have to share at least some of whatever viable vaccine is created on their soil for the good of stamping out the pandemic everywhere.

“”If Canada invests in this company … the fact that some of that supply would be used to meet their own needs is fine,” Bollyky said in an interview.

“The question is: would Canada use all of their early supplies to vaccinate low-risk members of their population and hoard in that regard? Or will they participate in this allocation mechanism that allows other priority needs in other nations to be met before they address low-risk members of their own country?”

Providence CEO Brad Sorenson said his company would be open to sharing its vaccine expertise internationally but is frustrated that the government hasn’t responded to its proposal since May.

“If we got support from the Canadian government, we’d develop the vaccine in Canada,” Sorenson said in an interview.

“We would seek out further investment and we would look to approach other countries similar to Canada’s size and similar to Canada’s capabilities and we would look to partner and expand the availability of this technology, to tech transfer this technology to other countries.”

In the essay, Bollyky and Chad P. Brown, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics shoot down the “oxygen mask” argument put forth by the Trump administration to support vaccinating Americans first. The well-known practice calls for airline passengers to put on their own oxygen masks first in a depressurizing airplane, so they can help others, especially children.

“The major difference, of course, is that airplane oxygen masks do not drop only in first class — which is the equivalent of what will happen when vaccines eventually become available if governments delay providing access to them to people in other countries,” write Bollyky and Brown.

Bains spokesman John Power said the government is ”working on all possible fronts to deliver safe and effective treatments and vaccines against COVID-19 to Canadians.

“This includes investments in scaling up Canadian vaccine manufacturing capabilities, funding support to Canadian vaccine candidates as part of Canada’s contribution to the global effort to find a vaccine, and partnering with the most promising international candidates.”

Canada has also invested more than $1 billion in various international co-operative efforts to find a vaccine. One of the them is the World Health Organization’s COVAX Facility in which countries will “share risk by accessing a wide portfolio of vaccine candidates,” said Power.

COVAX is the world’s only pooled vaccine procurement scheme, and its goal is to deliver two billion doses of safe, effective and WHO-approved vaccines by the end of 2021, he said.

Power said the vaccines would be delivered to all participating countries, proportional to their populations, with health-care workers being the recipients.

After that, the vaccine access would be expanded to cover 20 per cent of the populations of participating countries, he said.

“Further doses will then be made available based on a country’s needs, vulnerability and COVID-19 threat,” said Power.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 29, 2020.

Mike Blanchfield, The Canadian Press

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