OTTAWA — Canada expects to make a financial contribution to the international vaccine coalition known as COVAX, the federal government says, aiming to equitably distribute an eventual COVID-19 vaccine to poorer countries that couldn’t afford it.
The decision contrasts with Tuesday’s move by the Trump administration to have the United States opt out of the alliance of more than 150 countries because the program is linked to the World Health Organization.
President Donald Trump ended U.S. funding to the WHO in July because he says, it is unduly influenced by China and needs to be reformed.
A spokesman for Karina Gould, Canada’s international development minister, says the Trudeau government is working on the details of a spending commitment to what’s called the “COVAX Facility,” which is designed to ensure developing countries have fair access to a COVID-19 cure.
“There’s definitely an interest in our government to be part of the facility. That I can confirm,” Louis Belanger said in an interview.
“We’re looking at our options now.”
COVAX also allows investing countries to be given early access for up to 20 per cent of their populations.
The initiative is aimed at circumventing so-called vaccine nationalism — the scramble by individual countries to secure vaccines for their own populations, often by pre-buying doses directly from pharmaceutical companies.
And indeed Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced on Monday the government’s latest move in its plan to pre-buy tens of millions doses of potential vaccines, adding deals with two American companies working on promising candidates.
In June, however, Trudeau co-wrote an opinion column in the Washington Post along with the leaders of Spain, Ethiopia, New Zealand and South Korea, promoting COVAX as an equitable way of helping stamp out the pandemic everywhere.
Monday had been a deadline for the countries to move beyond simple expressions of interest and make financial pledges. But that deadline has now been moved to Sept. 18.
The European Union met the original Monday deadline when European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen announced its contribution of almost $620 million(400 million euros).
Von der Leyen said the contribution was an act of “global solidarity” but she also kept the door open to individual European countries’ continuing to pursue vaccines for their own purposes.
“No country, no continent can defeat the coronavirus on its own. We have to join forces,” she said.
“In parallel, we continue negotiating with pharmaceutical companies to purchase doses of vaccines on behalf of the EU member states.”
After the U.S. opted out, a White House spokesman said it would continue to engage with international organizations in the fight against COVID-19 but added: “we will not be constrained by multilateral organizations influenced by the corrupt World Health Organization and China.”
A spokeswoman for GAVI, the Vaccine Alliance, said Canada and several countries have expressed interest in joining COVAX but the organization would like to see firm dollar commitments by Sept. 18 with “up-front payments” to follow no later than Oct. 9.
“Canada has earlier submitted an expression of interest — a non-binding indication of interest — to participate in the COVAX Facility. We are now working on formalizing these EOLs with each country via legally binding agreements and hope to conclude this process before Sept. 18,” a GAVI spokeswoman told The Canadian Press in response to emailed questions.
Over the past 20 years, GAVI has become the leading international organization for distributing vaccines to less-developed countries.
Photo credit: AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File
News source: The Canadian Press