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Canada’s inaction on global vaccine access puts profit over people

At the current rate, it could take the world’s poorest countries another 50 years to vaccinate their populations

COVID-19Canadian PoliticsHuman Rights

The will of the wealthiest nations, including Canada, to oppose the financial gluttony and greed of the pharmaceutical industry is in short supply, writes Wyatt Schierman. Photo by Braňo/Unsplash.

In a recent interview with Global News, Bolivian Minister of Foreign Trade and Integration, Benjamin Blanco, expressed his frustration with the Canadian government for its continued inaction—and effective obstructionism—in not supporting a temporary waiver on the intellectual property rights of COVID-19 vaccines.

“We continue to wait,” he said. “We have been waiting too long.”

I can commiserate with Blanco and his impatience.

After more than a year since India and South Africa first proposed a temporary vaccine waiver at the World Trade Organization, a deal among member states has still not been reached.

Despite its obvious benefits (ending the current vaccination monopoly, accelerating the global inoculation rate, and speeding up a worldwide economic recovery) and its widespread support, including from more than 100 national governments, the implementation of the waiver is still being held up by a handful of wealthy countries in the so-called Global North—including Canada.

In public, the Canadian government has not expressed its outright resistance to the waiver, as have governments in Germany and the United Kingdom. However, by continuously denying its support for the waiver, Canada has been no less complicit in thwarting its implementation.

Of course, the prime minister and his team would never frame their fence-sitting nearly as negatively.

When asked about Canada’s position on the waiver in May of this year, Justin Trudeau refused to accept any responsibility for impeding attempts to increase the production and supply of vaccines to the Global South.

“I can assure you that Canada is not interfering or blocking,” he said. “Canada is very much working to find a solution that works for everyone.”

That sounds benign enough, but it’s really just more political doublespeak.

Global Justice Now and the People’s Vaccine projection campaigning for global vaccine equality at the offices of the Association for the British Pharmaceuticals Industry, London. Photo by Jess Hurd/Flickr.

If the Canadian government was really working to find a solution that benefits everyone, they’d have come out in support of the waiver instead of sitting idly by, dutifully appeasing the pharmaceutical industry.

As Minister Blanco has stated, what Canada (and rest of the Global North) needs right now, is some “political will” to “think of life before the interests of a few transnational pharmaceutical companies.”

Unfortunately, the will of the wealthiest nations to oppose the financial gluttony and greed of the pharmaceutical industry is in short supply these days. And as usual, it’s been those in the less wealthy Global South who have been cast aside, forced to carry the burden of that spinelessness.

No clearer example of this can be found than in the massive disparity of global vaccine distribution and supply.

While Western nations have now procured and administered the lion’s share of vaccines to inoculate most of their citizenry, the world’s poorest countries have been left to the wolves.

According to the latest statistics from Our World in Data, 70 percent of citizens in high income countries have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. In comparison, just 2.7 percent of citizens in low-income countries have received a single inoculation.

Africa, which has only five percent of its continental population fully protected, has been hit particularly hard by this disparity.

According to the latest annual World Bank report, the pandemic (and the ensuing lack of vaccine availability) has “plunged Sub-Saharan Africa into its first recession in over 25 years and exacerbated public debt vulnerabilities, pushing up to 40 million people into extreme poverty and erasing years of progress in reducing poverty.”

Yet, the Canadian government, and all other countries that continue to oppose the waiver, are aware of the tragedy that is befalling Africa and the rest of the developing world. They have been for more than one year. They’ve just done nothing—or at least nothing substantial—to assist in stopping the tragedy.

It is disheartening to say, but after more than 12 months of continued delay, Minister Blanco and the rest of the Global South will likely have to keep on waiting for any action on the vaccine waiver.

Wyatt James Schierman is a freelance writer from Alberta and a regular columnist with Loonie Politics. His writing has also been published in the Ottawa Citizen, the Toronto Star, the Calgary Herald, Huffington Post Canada and the Hill Times. When he is not writing, Wyatt is traveling abroad as an election observer.

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