OTTAWA -- Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is unrepentant about Canada accessing enough COVID-19 vaccine doses to immunize the entire population a few times over, but says the government will “absolutely” look to share.
“As Canada gets vaccinated, if we have more vaccines than necessary, absolutely we will be sharing with the world,” said Trudeau in an interview with CTV’s Question Period host Evan Solomon.
Canada has signed contracts guaranteeing access to 214 million doses of potential COVID-19 vaccines with the option to purchase 200 million more, meaning if all trials pan out, we’d have access to 414 million doses. That’s enough to fully vaccinate every person in this country more than a few times over.
The government has been criticized by groups like Amnesty International for stockpiling so many shots, but until now hasn’t been clear on what it would do should several vaccine producers pan out and Canada has access to millions more doses than needed.
Last week, Oxfam Canada issued a report saying that Canada was at the top of the list of wealthy countries that have pre-purchased COVID-19 vaccines, and implored Canada to do its part in ensuring all countries can access vaccines.
The organization warned that nine out of 10 people in poor countries will not be able to be vaccinated in 2021 and that “nearly 70 poor countries will only be able to vaccinate one in ten people against COVID-19 next year unless urgent action is taken by governments and the pharmaceutical industry to make sure enough doses are produced.”
Nicholas Lusiani, a senior advisor at Oxfam America, said inequitable rollout of the vaccine poses serious problems.
“This is not just an issue or moral concern but really an issue of economic concern. The global economy is not going to work if only islands of rich countries are vaccinated,” Lusiani told CTVNews.ca.
Asked to respond to criticisms of vaccine nationalism, Trudeau said he was unrepentant about ordering so many doses.
“My job is to look out for Canadians, and I will not apologize for doing a good job in establishing the right plan to vaccinate the largest number of Canadians as quickly as possible. That's my job,” Trudeau said.
He pointed to Canada’s involvement in COVAX, a global program that is working towards an equitable distribution of vaccines worldwide.
“Investments early on in vaccine developers helped them move quicker and better, so countries stepping up with millions of dollars to encourage a range of companies to develop these vaccines, is going to leave everyone better,” Trudeau said.
“Because we don't get through this pandemic anywhere without getting through it everywhere.”
Distribution could also pose a problem in developing countries. For instance, the Pfizer vaccine must be kept at ultra-low temperatures in specialized freezers, typically at hospitals or universities. Advocates fear that, without the proper investments in transportation and infrastructure, some of the world’s poorest communities may be unable to store these vaccines.
Oxfam predicts that widespread vaccination may not be available worldwide until 2023.
The full interview with the prime minister will air on CTV’s Question Period this Sunday at 11 a.m. EST.
With files from CTV's Omar Sachedina