OTTAWA — Canada's promise to donate almost 13 million vaccine doses to the global vaccine sharing alliance known as COVAX includes none of the 251 million doses of vaccine Canada bought directly from drug companies.
International Development Minister Karina Gould confirmed in an interview with The Canadian Press Monday that the 13 million doses are the rest of the vaccines Canada would have received from COVAX from a $220 million contract to buy doses from COVAX.
"The remainder of the COVAX, allotments that we have, we will not be accepting anymore in Canada, and so we'll be returning those back to COVAX.," said Gould.
Canada has received about one million doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine through two shipments from COVAX so far, and was to get another undetermined shipment of that vaccine this month. In all Canada intends to refuse 1.4 million doses of Johnson & Johnson, 4.1 million AstraZeneca and 7.8 million doses of Novavax, but the latter hasn't been approved for use anywhere yet.
It also believes the $575 million it donated in cash to COVAX should be able to buy between 72 million and 85 million doses.
NDP health critic Don Davies said Canada's suggestion it is donating up to 100 million doses to COVAX is a "shell game" where most is cash to buy doses that don't exist in a global supply shortage, and more than half of the actual doses Canada is donating are a vaccine that isn't in use.
"Like what kind of flim-flam game is this?" he asked.
So really, Davies said Canada's "generous contribution" is six million doses that we never should have been taking from COVAX in the first place.
COVAX was created in 2020 to try and pool the scarce but crucial global supplies of vaccine, and distribute them equitably around the world. Wealthy nations were asked to buy doses through COVAX and donate money to buy doses for countries that weren't able to afford them on their own.
Instead, most wealthy countries agreed to donate to COVAX but also signed dozens of direct contract deals with vaccine makers to ensure their own supply of vaccines.
Steven Hoffman, a professor of global health, law and political science at York University in Toronto, told the House of Commons health committee Monday that the self-interested vaccine hoarding of wealthier nations is breeding resentment and undermining global co-operation.
Canada has fully vaccinated more than one in 10 people already, and partially vaccinated more than two in three. Hoffman said even with G7 donations of a billion doses in the next year, only about one in 20 people in a low-income country will be vaccinated by the end of December.
"That means that as we prepare to go back to normal, nearly everyone in poorer countries knows that won't be their reality in 2021, and probably not in 2022, either," he said.
Canada is among the countries that joined both sides of COVAX — buying $220 million of vaccines from CVOAX suppliers and donating $575 million to buy and distribute vaccines to others.
It also signed private deals to buy at least 251 million doses of seven different vaccines, more than three times what it needs to fully vaccinate every Canadian. The deals were made before it was clear which vaccines would work and be authorized.
Four of the seven have been authorized for use. Novavax intends to request approval in the summer, after reporting positive results from a Phase 3 trial Monday. Medicago and Sanofi are still doing Phase 3 trials and hope to be ready for authorization before Christmas.
Canada should have at least 50 million excess doses of Pfizer, Moderna, AstraZeneca and J&J by the end of the year, and eventually up to 124 million of the other three either this year or in 2022.
Gould said Canada will donate the extra doses it has but isn't promising any yet because so many things have already gone wrong in the world of pandemic vaccine making.
"You know, a number of issues arise with vaccine production, as we've seen over the past year," she said.
"We are just wanting to be as open and honest and transparent as the process unfolds, to ensure that once we do have those extra vaccines, we can give as clear an answer as possible and a timeline."
An Angus Reid Forum survey taken the first week of June suggests the government is doing what a majority of Canadians want. The survey, which can't be given a margin of error because it was taken online, found 72 per cent of those polled want Canada to vaccinate all Canadians first and then share doses globally.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 14, 2021.
Mia Rabson, The Canadian Press
Note to readers: This is a corrected story. An earlier version incorrectly suggested Canada had only received one shipment from COVAX so far. It has received two.