A medic administers a Moderna COVID-19 vaccine to a fellow medic during a campaign to vaccinate front-line medical workers, at the health ministry, in the West Bank city of Bethlehem, Wednesday, Feb. 3, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Nasser Nasser

A medic administers a Moderna COVID-19 vaccine to a fellow medic during a campaign to vaccinate front-line medical workers, at the health ministry, in the West Bank city of Bethlehem, Wednesday, Feb. 3, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Nasser Nasser

Anti-poverty groups blast Canada for accepting vaccines needed in poor countries

OTTAWA — Two of the world’s leading anti-poverty organizations are criticizing Canada’s decision to draw COVID-19 vaccines from an international fund designed to help poor countries.

Oxfam Canada and the ONE Campaign say it is wrong for the federal government to agree to accept almost 1.9 million doses of vaccine from the COVAX Facility by the end of June.

Canada is one of the leading donors to COVAX, a new international partnership under the World Health Organization created last year to help deliver billions of expensive vaccine doses to poor countries that can’t afford vaccinations.

In return, donor countries are allowed to receive a small percentage of vaccines for their own use, but the Trudeau Liberals have been under fire from their political opponents for doing that as Canada faces shortfalls in doses from two major international biotech firms, Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna.

Diana Sarosi, Oxfam Canada’s policy director, says it is wrong for Canada to accept COVAX vaccines because of domestic political pressure and says it will ultimately do harm in poorer countries.

“Canada should not be taking the COVAX vaccine from poor nations to alleviate political pressures at home. Receiving one or two million doses isn’t going to solve Canada’s vaccination challenges and it is going to cause harm elsewhere in the world for the poorest and most marginalized people,” Sarosi said in a statement.

“Purchasing more vaccines, when Canada has already purchased enough to vaccinate the entire population four times over, is not a viable solution.”

Sarosi and Stuart Hickox, the Canadian executive director of the ONE Campaign, called on Canada and other governments to force vaccine makers to give up their intellectual property rights so their vaccines can be more rapidly and affordably reproduced.

Hickox said Prime Minister Justin Trudeau should join French President Emmanuel Macron and 100 other countries that are calling for a temporary waiver of intellectual property rights for COVID-19 vaccines at the World Trade Organization.

“There’s no doubt that this makes Canada look bad. What’s lost in this frenzy is the fact that COVAX is operating as it was designed, and that Canada is one of the biggest donors. Once the domestic vaccine rollout stabilizes, Canada should announce a clear strategy of how Canada will share back the extra vaccines the government secured,” said Hickox.

Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole skirted a question on Thursday about whether he would reject the COVAX doses if he were prime minister.

Instead, O’Toole said he never would have let the current shortfalls happen if he were in charge 10 months ago. He said the fact that Canada was dipping into COVAX was a sign that the government had rolled out an inadequate plan to vaccinate Canadians.

“Canada should have made sure that we had a domestic supply that ensured we were vaccinated quickly so we could reopen the economy, get the economy moving together,” O’Toole said.

Only then, he said, should Canada play its role in helping the developed world.

“I would like to see the vaccines rolled out here as quickly as possible,” said O’Toole.

Green Leader Annamie Paul said that just because Canada can get the COVAX vaccine doses doesn’t make it right. She says the decision is having a negative effect on Canada’s international reputation.

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