This story is part of an ongoing series — The Road to a Vaccine — that looks at Canada’s quest to secure a COVID-19 vaccine amid the global pandemic, as well as the hurdles and history it faces to do so.
Canada has officially signed onto a major international effort to share potential COVID-19 vaccines and hopefully make sure countries with fewer resources aren’t left out in the cold.
On Monday, Canada was listed among the countries that have officially joined the COVAX Facility, a strategy designed to guarantee “rapid, fair and equitable access” to COVID-19 vaccines to every country.
It was launched this spring by the World Health Organization and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s Gavi alliance, among others. While Canada had previously expressed interest, its participation is now official.
The general idea behind COVAX is to allow member countries to pool both money and risk by investing in a range of potential vaccines. Then, if any prove successful, the group can quickly get its hands on them.
According to a statement from Gavi, there are now 64 higher-income countries committed, with another 38 expected to sign on in the coming days.
Notably absent is the United States, which made headlines earlier this month when the Trump administration said it would not participate in the effort.
There are two pieces to the COVAX effort.
While the COVAX Facility is all about getting access to vaccines, there is also a funding arm, called the COVAX Advance Market Commitment, which is trying to make sure that low-income countries have a spot at the table. If all goes according to plan, any eventual doses would be shared among a mix of high-income countries, such as Canada, that have contributed financially, and also poorer countries that are supported by donations.
According to the release, this second part has a target of raising US $2 billion by the end of the year, and currently it has bout $700 million, raised from donor countries, the private sector and philanthropists.
There also 92 low- and middle-income countries that are eligible to receive vaccines through the COVAX facility, according to Gavi.
“This means that 156 economies, representing roughly 64% of the global population in total, are now either committed to or eligible for the COVAX Facility, with more to follow,” Gavi said in a release.
“COVAX is now in business: Governments from every continent have chosen to work together, not only to secure vaccines for their own populations, but also to help ensure that vaccines are available to the most vulnerable everywhere,” Dr. Seth Berkley, CEO of Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, said in a statement.
“With the commitments we’re announcing today for the COVAX Facility, as well as the historic partnership we are forging with industry, we now stand a far better chance of ending the acute phase of this pandemic once safe, effective vaccines become available.”
COVAX is not Canada’s only plan to procure vaccines.
The federal government has signed advanced purchase agreements with four different biopharmaceutical companies should any of their candidates pass both clinical testing and Health Canada approval, in a move that has drawn accusations from some health and policy experts that this country is engaging in “vaccine nationalism.”
In an interview last week, federal Procurement Minister Anita Anand said that Canada was supportive of “the objectives and principles” of the COVAX Facility, as the only global procurement mechanism that allows countries to share risk.
The goal of the project — which will depend on how much money is contributed by partner governments — is to deliver two billion vaccine doses by the end of 2021 that have all either passed regulatory approval or been pre-qualified by WHO.
While countries such as Canada are able to request a specific number of doses — which will determine how much they have to chip in — lower-income countries will receive a share of doses based on their population.
Now that dozens of countries have officially signed up, the COVAX Facility’s next step will be to start signing formal agreements with vaccine manufacturers and developers.