Testimony to the Parliamentary Health Committee: People’s Vaccine Alliance
Thank you for the invitation to appear on behalf of the People’s Vaccine Alliance. Oxfam is one of the founding members of this growing movement of health and humanitarian organizations, past and present world leaders, health experts and economists that is calling for COVID-19 vaccines to be made available for all people, in all countries, free of charge.
COVID-19 knows no borders and has impacted everyone’s life. Canadians from coast to coast to coast are hurting. But we know that the pandemic has hit certain groups harder than others. Here in Canada, Black, Indigenous and racialized women, women with disabilities and immigrant women have been hardest hit by this virus, and in many cities they have the highest infection rates. This is because so many of these women are frontline healthcare workers, or work in what we now recognize as essential jobs. This is why Oxfam has labelled the coronavirus the ‘Inequality Virus’, to emphasize just how much COVID-19 is deepening and exacerbating existing inequalities.
The pandemic has demanded interventions on a scale and scope not seen in decades. Canada has invested unprecedented levels of resources to provide a safety net for people here in Canada, and offered significant support to help developing countries weather this storm. This includes close to $940m to support equitable access to COVID-19 tests, treatments and vaccines through the WHO’s Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator. This funding includes $325m for the COVAX Advance Market Commitment stream, which aims to help vaccinate 20% of people in 92 low-and middle-income countries, especially the most at-risk groups.
However, at current trends, 9 out of 10 people in low income countries will miss out on a COVID-19 vaccine this year, and estimates show that poorer countries will not have widespread vaccination programs in place until 2024. We need to do better. The longer the virus is around, the more likely it is to mutate making current immunization efforts ineffective.
The WHO initiatives that Canada is supporting are important, but they do not tackle the global problem of vaccine shortages. They are also undermined by wealthy nations cutting bilateral supply deals that drive up prices and limit supplies.
Our best chance of all staying safe is to ensure COVID-19 vaccines are available for all as a global common good. This will only be possible if we change the way vaccines are produced and distributed. Pharmaceutical corporations must allow COVID-19 vaccines to be produced as widely as possible by sharing vaccine technology free from intellectual property rights. We must maximize production so that enough doses are available for the world to achieve herd immunity.
Canada can help end the scramble for vaccines.
Canada became the co-chair of the COVAX Advance Market Commitment Engagement Group this past January. In her role as co-chair, Minister Gould can strengthen COVAX by pushing for increased transparency and inviting developing countries and civil society representatives to decision-making spaces. Canada should refrain from procuring vaccines from COVAX at this time. For many low-income countries, COVAX may be their only chance of receiving vaccines this year. Ghana and Ivory Coast received their first vaccine shipments this past week through COVAX. This is worth celebrating, as it is a first step to ensuring that their healthcare workers have the protection they need to do their jobs safely. Unfortunately, close to 80 other countries have yet to receive a single dose.
The world needs more vaccines, fast. This week, Canada has an opportunity to change the course of the pandemic.
A waiver on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights, otherwise known as TRIPS, is being brought to a vote at the World Trade Organization. Spearheaded by South Africa and India, and supported by more than 100 countries, this waiver would be a game changer for increasing vaccine supplies, as it would allow countries with the manufacturing capacity to make COVID-19 vaccines. We hope to see Canada vote in favour.
This pandemic has shown us how interconnected we all are, and how vital it is to have international cooperation and solidarity. By voting in favour of a TRIPS waiver at the WTO this week, Canada can help stop the pandemic in its tracks.
Thank you again, on behalf of Oxfam and the People’s Vaccine Alliance, for the opportunity to appear.