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Canada the only G7 country to take vaccines from fund that helps developing countries

A health-care worker prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a UHN COVID-19 vaccine clinic in Toronto on Jan. 7, 2021.

Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press

Canada is the only Group of Seven country to draw on a supply of COVID-19 vaccines meant primarily for developing countries, leading to fresh charges of hoarding against a country that is already a world leader in vaccine purchases per capita.

The COVAX program pools funds from wealthier countries to help buy vaccines for themselves and for 92 low- and middle-income countries that can’t afford to buy on their own.

The vast majority of countries receiving the first vaccine shipments from COVAX are low- and middle-income countries, according to information released Wednesday by Gavi, the vaccine alliance that is co-ordinating the program.

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But Canada is among just a few rich countries exercising its options now to buy vaccines from the international group. Other wealthy countries on the list receiving the vaccines include New Zealand and Singapore. Canada’s vaccines are expected to arrive by the end of June.

Pending regulator approval, Canada will receive 1.9 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine from the COVAX program. It’s listed among countries such as Rwanda, Afghanistan and Sudan, which have yet to receive any vaccines, according to the Our World in Data website.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government faces intense political pressure for a vaccine rollout that in its first two months has been beset by delays, and repeatedly lowered expectations. Amid a global supply crunch with only a few COVID-19 vaccines approved, countries in the European Union are under similar pressure but held off drawing on the limited doses COVAX has available.

The federal government defended its decision, saying it has always intended to draw from the international program in addition to contributing to the effort.

“Our contribution to the global mechanism had always been intended to access vaccine doses for Canadians as well as to support lower-income countries,” Guillaume Dumas, a spokesperson for International Development Minister Karina Gould, said in a statement. “We’re having a comprehensive approach to fighting the pandemic as we know that the virus won’t be defeated until it is defeated everywhere.”

The COVAX purchase is on top of the seven contracts Canada signed directly with drug makers. Through those seven contracts, and factoring in the two-shot dose regimen for most of the vaccines, the federal government had already bought enough vaccines to inoculate the entire population three times over. The contracts are all contingent on Health Canada approval.

Relying on its contracts with Pfizer and Moderna alone, Canada says it will have enough doses to inoculate everyone in Canada by September.

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In September, Mr. Trudeau announced the federal government would give COVAX $440-million. Half of that was to allow Canada to buy up to 15 million vaccine doses, while the rest would go to low- and middle-income countries so they can also buy the critical shots.

At a virtual press conference on Wednesday, Gavi chief executive officer Seth Berkley said the group’s most important role is to “supply vaccines for countries that otherwise wouldn’t get access.”

“Does it help when countries that have a lot of bilateral deals don’t take doses?” he asked. “Of course it helps because that means there are more doses available for others.”

The number of doses that Canada is getting from COVAX is also lower than what Procurement Minister Anita Anand first told The Canadian Press ahead of Wednesday’s announcement. She said Canada would get up to 3.2 million by the end of June. That number was not included in the document released by GAVI on Wednesday.

A letter sent to Canada on Jan. 30 from COVAX, and provided to The Globe, said Canada could expect…

Read More: Canada the only G7 country to take vaccines from fund that helps developing countries

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