Feb 4, 2021 - World

Canada accepts vaccines from COVAX despite bilateral deals

Trudeau. Photo: Dave Chan/Getty Images

The global COVAX vaccine initiative has rolled out detailed plans to distribute vaccines to 145 participants in the first half of 2021.

Zoom in: Canada, which has purchased more doses per capita than any other country, has nonetheless elected to take 1.9 million doses from COVAX.

The big picture: COVAX is the only global mechanism for vaccine distribution and involves nearly every country on Earth, with wealthier countries subsidizing access for poorer ones.

  • The initial phases involve 336 million doses of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine, as well as a much smaller volume of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine.
  • By the end of 2021, COVAX aims to ensure that at least 20% of the population in every country has been vaccinated.

Every participant has a right to claim doses, but most rich countries that have secured access through bilateral deals have elected not to do so, at least in the first wave.

  • As Seth Berkley, CEO of the GAVI vaccine alliance, put it to reporters on Wednesday: "Does it help when countries that have a lot of bilateral deals don't take doses? Of course it helps because that means there are more doses available for others."
  • While several other rich countries (Monaco, New Zealand, Saudi Arabia, Singapore) are claiming COVAX doses, Canada is the only G7 country on the list.

What they're saying: "COVAX was always part of the government of Canada's procurement strategy," Minister of International Development Karina Gould told CTV, adding that the government's top priority is ensuring that Canadians have access.

The state of play: While Canada has purchased some 200 million doses for its population of 38 million people, it has only administered one million.

  • Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has faced sharp pressure over the repeated delays in supply, which are due in part to a lack of domestic manufacturing capacity.
  • The other side: Many countries have yet to administer a single dose, and won't until they begin to receive supplies from COVAX.

What to watch: Trudeau has previously committed to donating excess doses to COVAX, but hasn't said whether Canada will do so before it has fully covered its own domestic needs.

Worth noting: North Korea, which has sealed itself off from the world even more tightly during the pandemic and claims to be COVID-free, is also expecting doses from COVAX.

Go deeper: The global line for coronavirus vaccines stretches back to 2023.

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