Canada’s vaccine reserve exceeds 4 million doses, prompting calls for better monitoring of donations
The federal government’s central COVID-19 vaccine inventory has far exceeded its target of four million doses in recent months – sometimes holding more than triple that amount, according to a CBC analysis.
Global vaccine fairness advocates say figures show Canada was keeping extra doses in reserve at a time when demand for booster vaccines was not yet there and as several low-income countries struggled to obtain vaccines.
As Canada’s immunization campaign kicked off over the summer, the federal government said it would maintain a reserve of about four million vaccines for Canadians, and that any inventory reported as surplus would be donated to donations. other countries.
But an analysis of the federal government’s online archives using the Wayback Machine shows that central vaccine inventory data has not declined to the four million dose mark since that commitment was made by the then Purchasing Minister Anita Anand on August 12.
At its lowest, the reserve was 6.5 million doses by mid-November. At its highest, it was at over 13 million doses, according to federal data.
As of Thursday, the Federal Reserve stood at around 6.5 million doses.
Federal Reserve figures do not include excess vaccines on provincial or territorial reserves. There are currently 16 million doses in combined federal and provincial reserves, Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos said on Wednesday.
The figures underscore that Canada “absolutely could do a lot more” to keep its pledge to support the developing world, said Adam Houston, medical policy and advocacy manager for Doctors Without Borders / Doctors Without Borders.
“This has been very disturbing at a time of very serious global inequality in vaccines,” said Houston. “I think it also underscores the fact that Canada took more than it needed.”
As the Omicron variant spreads in Canada and around the world, many Canadian doctors and advocates have said getting the world vaccinated is essential to stop the spread and mutation of the coronavirus.
As booster shots are now circulated to more Canadians, Houston and other advocates say the federal government needs to be more transparent in moving forward with its plans for excessive doses and donations to patients. low income countries.
Central vaccine inventory
Announcing a donation of 10 million doses of the Johnson & Johnson single-dose vaccine to low- and middle-income countries last August, Anand pledged the federal government will continue to support the developing world.
“In the future, our government will maintain a vaccine reserve of approximately four million doses which will be managed by the Minister [Patty] Hajdu and the [Public Health Agency of Canada], in coordination with the provinces and territories, ”she said.
“The purpose of the reserve is to ensure that vaccines are available to Canadians when they are needed while ensuring that doses are available for other countries.”
Canadian doses identified as excess, she said, would be given to international partners “on an ongoing basis, as negotiated and facilitated” by then-Minister of International Development Karina Gould.
WATCH | The federal government promises a vaccine reserve cap:
Having additional doses on hand is reasonable, given that vaccine deliveries and demand don’t always match perfectly, said Dr Zain Chagla, infectious disease physician at St. Joseph’s Healthcare Hamilton and associate professor at the McMaster University.
“But at the same time, having such a large reserve is a problem,” he said. “Not just a problem with the context of eight million doses on the Federal Reserve, and probably more on the Provincial Reserves. There is a problem that these doses now need to be delivered to our soil.”
Officials from the World Health Organization and UNICEF said some countries were receiving surplus vaccines from wealthy countries that were about to expire, making it difficult to distribute them.
“It grew and continued to grow, even after the vaccination campaigns slowed,” Chagla said of the Federal Reserve.
Throughout the pandemic, Canada has provided vaccines and financial support to other countries through global efforts like the COVAX Vaccine Sharing Initiative, which pools funds from rich countries to purchase vaccines. for these countries and to ensure that low- and middle-income countries also have access.
As of Thursday, Canada has donated more than 9.2 million excess vaccine doses through COVAX. Canada also shared 762,080 doses of AstraZeneca under bilateral agreements with countries in Latin America and the Caribbean.
“One of the big concerns about donations is that Canada hasn’t shared a lot of doses,” Houston said.
“When you think about the fact that most of the time we’ve had over 10 million doses in the central vaccine inventory alone, it really raises a lot of questions about Canada’s ability to do more. “
In a statement, a spokesperson for Health Canada said that when the vaccine supply is “deemed to be in excess of national needs, the Government of Canada will make efforts to donate those doses.”
The release added that the federal government has worked with provinces and territories to ensure that “sufficient supplies” are available for immunization campaigns across the country.
“The Government of Canada is also holding doses on behalf of provinces and territories that have already been allocated for home use, including supplies to support recall campaigns,” the release said.
Public Services and Procurement Canada referred comments to Health Canada.
Need for transparency
Vaccine fairness advocates say Canada needs to be more transparent about what it does with its excess doses in the future, because at least a million doses have already expired here.
“We don’t need to have the kind of stocks that are six to 10 million more doses than we need. There’s just a huge risk there – it’s an expiration risk, ”said Julia Anderson, CEO of the Canadian Partnership for Women’s and Children’s Health. , a not-for-profit, multi-stakeholder organization dedicated to increasing Canada’s impact and reputation globally.
“Canadians need vaccines to take up arms. And it’s both to take up Canadian arms but, really, the race now is to get him to take up arms around the world if you don’t want another Omicron which is much more deadly. “
In particular, details such as timelines are needed for some of Canada’s commitments, advocates say.
“In fact, I want them to have a mandate, a timeline and a plan to make sure that since the vaccines are in surplus, they will indeed be administered globally,” said Ananya Tina Banerjee, Professor Assistant in the McGill University School of Medicine. Population and Global Health and the Dalla Lana School of Public Health at the University of Toronto.
“There has to be a no-nonsense approach to solving this global challenge if Canadians are to get their lives back,” Anderson said.