Whoa, Canada! Our neighbor to the north has come under fire for drawing COVID-19 vaccine doses from the international consortium meant to preserve supplies for poorer countries, a consortium that the US under Donald Trump pointedly eschewed in favor of Trump’s “America First” philosophy. Now, Justin Trudeau’s government has resorted to defending its self-interest, vowing no apologies for putting Canada first:
Canadian officials are defending a decision to accept coronavirus vaccines from a program aimed primarily at helping low- and middle-income countries, saying that drawing doses from the Covax facility was always part of its strategy.
“Our government will never apologize for doing everything in our power to get Canadians vaccinated as quickly as possible,” Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland said this week. “We’re focused on getting Canadians vaccinated, while making sure the rest of the world is vaccinated, too.” ,,,
The prospect of a wealthy country like Canada, which has cut several deals directly with drugmakers, seeking additional doses alongside low- and middle-income countries through Covax has added a new element to the debate about vaccine hoarding by the rich at the expense of the poor.
It has also created a headache for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government, which already was under fire for a slow vaccine rollout that has lagged behind many of its peers.
Vaccine-sharing looks fine on paper, when supplies appear to be plentiful. When production runs short and people start demanding answers about lockdowns and safety, suddenly self-interest starts looking a lot better. And make no mistake, Trudeau’s government has come under considerable internal criticism for its rollout despite having procured enough doses to be among the highest per-capita supplied countries in the world:
Procurement Minister Anita Anand said this week she is confident Canada’s COVID-19 vaccine deliveries will only get better going forward but just hours after she made the remark, Canada’s vaccine purchases got slammed again.
“The worst week was last week,” Anand said in an interview with The Canadian Press Tuesday night.
But within hours of the statement, potential deliveries from the global vaccine-sharing initiative known as the COVAX Facility diminished and Canada learned the production problems that cut this week’s deliveries from Moderna by 20 per cent are now going to affect the next shipment as well. …
A spokeswoman for Moderna told The Canadian Press the company remains “on track” to meet its contract to supply two million doses of its vaccine by the end of March.
They are but the latest headaches for Canada’s vaccine efforts, coming after supply constraints cut Pfizer-BioNTech deliveries by more than two-thirds over four weeks, and European export controls that could put our entire supply of vaccines at risk.
The US got around this problem by using its buying power to help develop the vaccines up front. Operation Warp Speed pre-bought hundreds of millions of doses from several different manufacturers before knowing with any certainty that those vaccines would be both safe and effective. We hit the jackpot by getting several vaccines that did succeed in both ways, and in doing so guaranteed more than enough doses to get Americans fully vaccinated by summer. We also avoided the entanglement of COVAX explicitly to keep it from interfering with domestic vaccinations, which created some similar criticisms of the Trump administration, which couldn’t have cared less about them.
Canada’s not the only one caught with its pants down. The European Union tried to overmanage its procurement and ended up dealing with shortages too:
As Western governments faced criticism for their pandemic management last summer, European Union officials began work on a vaccine-procurement plan they hoped would put the continent at the forefront of efforts to banish the coronavirus and reopen economies.
Instead of its 27 member states fighting for doses from a few manufacturers, the European Commission, the closest the bloc has to a government, would centralize purchases for some 450 million inhabitants, bringing prices down and ensuring that residents of rich and poor countries alike would get equal access to the best shots available.
Half a year later, an acute shortage of doses is keeping the EU’s vaccination effort from taking off, making it likely that only a small portion of the general public will get a shot by the end of summer. The reasons: The EU was late in ordering vaccines compared with the U.S. and the U.K.; it bet on companies that have yet to deliver; and when delays started creeping in, it blamed the manufacturers instead of restarting negotiations.
“There are about 10 hard weeks of vaccine deficiency ahead of us,” German Health Minister Jens Spahn told journalists over the weekend. “More [vaccines] could have been ordered, and faster.”
It probably won’t be long before other Western COVAX partners begin drawing out of the pool for themselves. They might also pressure the US to join COVAX and start contributing some of its share of vaccines, but that might be a lot to ask a new Biden administration, especially given its very narrow grip on Congress. If Trudeau can go Canada First, Joe Biden might just want to stick with the plan handed to him by Trump.