In My Opinion: Canada needs to play a leading role in achieving global vaccine equity

Nathaniel Erskine-Smith is the Liberal MP for Beaches-East York.

By NATHANIEL ERSKINE-SMITH

Our continued failure to vaccinate the world will cost lives, damage our economic recovery, and enable new variants to emerge. We can and must do better.

Late last year, G20 leaders committed to vaccinate 70 per cent of the world by September. Yet without additional action, we will not only fail to meet that goal, we will particularly fail those in the greatest need. As it stands, of the 10 billion doses administered to date, only 10 per cent have been administered in low-income countries.

This lack of urgency not only falls short of our moral obligation to those who have less, it also puts our own health response and recovery efforts at risk.

Aris Katzourakis, Oxford professor and expert in the evolutionary biology of viruses, highlighted this risk in a recent article for Nature: “The best way to prevent more, more-dangerous or more-transmissible variants from emerging is to stop unconstrained spread, and that requires many integrated public-health interventions, including, crucially, vaccine equity.”

Without vaccine equity, we will continue to see supply chain disruptions that drag on our economy and a new and dangerous variant could undo all of our sacrifice and progress to date.

It’s no wonder that a report for the National Bureau of Economic Research concluded, “it is not an act of charity but an act of economic rationality for advanced economies to get involved in the efforts for an equitable global vaccine distribution.”

If that global distribution remains inequitable, Canada and other high-income countries stand to lose much more than it would cost to vaccinate the world.

That cost is estimated to be as little as $50 billion. Compared to the $10 trillion that G20 countries have spent to respond to the pandemic, the OECD’s Chief Economist Laurence Boone has rightly described these efforts as “completely disproportionate.”

Here in Canada, we’ve responded to the pandemic with over $500 billion in federal spending, including to procure vaccines and to bridge our citizens and businesses through the greatest crisis in our lifetimes. Yet only $1.3 billion has been directed to the ACT-Accelerator, the global collaboration to deliver vaccines, tests, and treatments. That $1.3 billion represents the sixth largest contribution to the ACT-Accelerator, making Canada a global leader in an overall effort that is underwhelming and insufficient.

To strengthen that effort, I’ve tabled a motion in Parliament that calls on Canada to do more to end the pandemic by sharing doses, resources, and knowledge.

First, we need to meet our promise to donate at least 200 million doses to vulnerable populations around the world through COVAX by the end of 2022. To date, we’ve identified 50 million excess doses (of which only 12 million have been delivered) and contributed funding equivalent to 80 million doses. In addition to identifying 70 million more doses (or equivalent funding) we need to ensure that the delivery schedule is expedited.

Second, we need to allocate at least $1.1 billion more for vaccine equity in Budget 2022, both to procure vaccines, tests, and treatments in developing countries, and to strengthen pandemic response capacity, including support for in-country delivery costs. $1.1 billion represents Canada’s fair share contribution under the Act-Accelerator’s financing framework, but an even larger contribution would be welcome given the collective action problem at hand.

Third, we need to contribute to a significant increase in global manufacturing capabilities for vaccines and other tools, including by supporting the TRIPS waiver to address IP barriers, facilitating the transfer of technology, and financial support for regional hubs.

In the end, when we look back at this time in history, we should see that Canada played a leading role in addressing global vaccine equity, the most important intervention to end the greatest crisis in our lifetimes.

Having spent hundreds of billions on our own domestic pandemic response, we should spend a fraction of that to save lives around the world and protect ourselves against the next variant.


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