Editorial Cartoon by Graeme MacKay, The Hamilton Spectator – Friday December 3, 2021
Boosters or global vaccine sharing? Canada can do both amid Omicron: experts
The discovery of the new Omicron COVID-19 variant has reignited the issue of global vaccine inequality as richer nations debate whether to accelerate third doses of vaccines.
But as Canadian officials figure out how to protect their populations, they must also not lose focus on vaccinating other parts of the world to stop new variants from emerging, experts say.
“There has been a lack of appreciation and foresight into how important and directly impactful it is to ensure that we vaccinate the entire world,” said Dr. Matthew Miller, associate professor of biochemistry and biomedical sciences at McMaster University.
“We need to be thinking really carefully and deliberately about how we ensure that nations and regions that have not had good vaccine availability get access to those vaccines.”
Following the revelation of Omicron last week, which the WHO warns poses a “very high” risk, wealthy nations around the world have taken steps to try and protect their populations.
Among those measures are travel bans. mainly on nations in Africa, where the variant was discovered, but also on accelerating expanding third dose rollouts.
The United Kingdom has decided to open booster shots for all adults, and the head of the European Commission said Wednesday the European Union needs daily reviews of its travel restrictions and rapid deployment of boosters to protect from Omicron. It is unclear right now if the variant is more deadly, or if it can evade current vaccines.
The Canadian government has requested the National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) to quickly provide the latest directives on booster use in light of the Omicron variant, Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos said Tuesday.
Canada’s vaccination rate vastly differs from other countries in the world. Right now, 86 per cent of eligible Canadians are fully vaccinated whereas the world’s population overall is 43.58 per cent fully vaccinated, Johns Hopkins University indicates.
However, Johns Hopkins’ data shows large portions of Africa remain unvaccinated. In Nigeria, the continent’s most populous country, only 1.74 per cent of eligible Nigerians are fully vaccinated. In Ethiopia, 1.28 per cent of its eligible population is fully inoculated.
Many African nations have had challenges with their vaccine rollouts, and have wasted doses that have been given with short notices and short shelf lives. Some countries have also run into vaccine hesitancy, which has impacted uptake.
Those challenges show that global vaccine equity is more than just supplying shots, Barrett said, adding wealthy countries like Canada need to help with rollouts even as they boost their populations.
“Vaccine rollouts have been so ineffective in some places that they’ve been throwing vaccines out because it expires over the last number of months,” she said.
“How do we start to support other countries in a real way to get their vaccine rollout in a more effective space and place, so they’re not throwing out expired vaccine doses?”
To date, Canada has donated more than 8.3 million surplus vaccine doses through COVAX, and has also shared 762,080 AstraZeneca doses through direct, bilateral arrangements with countries in Latin America and the Caribbean.
The government has also pledged to donate at least 200 million doses to the COVAX by the end of 2022. (Global News)