Covid-19 cases continue to soar in India, leaving thousands sick and in need of vaccines, oxygen and other medical supplies. However, Dr. Prabhat Jha, an epidemiologist and professor at the University of Toronto’s Dalla Lana School of Public Health, told CBC’s Cross Country Checkup in an interview that Canada should have tried harder to ensure vaccines were distributed more equitably among other countries.
He explained that Canada should have committed to more funding for the COVID-19 Vaccine Global Access (COVAX), a global initiative for vaccine sharing. The Canadian government has committed around $220 million to COVAX, with an additional $220 million going towards the COVAX Advance Market Commitment to buy doses for low and middle income countries. “It certainly could have done more by calling for the G20 to make sure that vaccines were very equitably distributed,” Jha said.
India has been hit hard by a second wave of the virus and its death toll has skyrocketed, climbing to a record 3,689 deaths on Sunday. The total number of Covid-19 cases is at over 19 million, causing devastating oxygen shortages across the country.
Another expert, researcher Katrina Perehudoff, a fellow at the WHO Collaborating Centre on the Pharmaceutical Sector at the University of Toronto, told the CBC there was also the issue of vaccines being treated more like a commodity rather than a public good. To date, Canada has invested over $1 billion to secure access to various vaccines.
Jha says better global vaccine distribution is the only way to avoid future waves of the virus. “We know that the world can’t go back to business as usual unless basically almost all of the adults in the world are vaccinated,” he said.
Although it makes sense that Canada would make vaccines for Canadian citizens a priority – Canada reported more than 7,000 cases today alone – Perehudoff says the government still has a global responsibility. “Canada is part of the 171 countries that have committed to international human rights law that clearly outlines everybody has a right to health… not only [for] the people within your country, but also internationally,” she said.
India’s surging numbers have prompted other countries to pledge aid, including Canada, who will provide $10 million to help with purchasing and distributing medical supplies, and supporting ambulance and blood services. On Sunday, a spokesperson for Health Canada wrote in an email to Global News that the Canadian government will also be sending medical equipment to India from its emergency stockpile.