Canada’s vaccine reserve exceeds 4 million doses, prompting better donation tracking

The federal government’s central COVID-19 vaccine inventory has far exceeded its target of four million doses in recent months — sometimes more than threefold, according to a CBC analysis.

Proponents of global vaccine equality say the numbers show Canada was holding extra doses in reserve at a time when the demand for booster shots wasn’t there yet and while several lower-income countries struggled to get vaccines.

As Canada’s vaccination campaign got underway over the summer, the federal government said it would hold a reserve of about four million shots for Canadians to access, and that any inventory marked as surplus would be donated to other countries.

But an analysis of the federal government’s online archives using the Wayback Machine shows that central vaccine inventory data hasn’t fallen toward the four million doses since that pledge was made by then-Procurement Secretary Anita Anand on December 12. August.

At its lowest point, the reserve stood at 6.5 million doses around mid-November. At its highest, it was over 13 million doses, according to federal data.

On Thursday, the federal reserve was at about 6.5 million doses.

Federal reserve figures do not include excess vaccines in provincial or territorial reserves. There are currently 16 million doses in federal and provincial reserves combined, Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos said Wednesday.

The numbers highlight that Canada could “do absolutely a lot more” to deliver on its promise to support the developing world, said Adam Houston, a medical policy advocate for Doctors Without Borders/Doctors Without Borders.

“It was very troubling at a time of very serious global vaccine inequality,” Houston said. “I think it also underscores that Canada needed more than it needed.”

As the Omicron variant spreads through Canada and the world, countless Canadian doctors and lawyers have said vaccinating the world is the key to stopping further spread and mutation of the coronavirus.

With booster shots now being rolled out to more Canadians, Houston and other proponents say the federal government needs to be more transparent about its plans for excess doses and donations to lower-income countries.

Central vaccine inventory

In announcing a donation of 10 million doses of the Johnson & Johnson single-use vaccine in August last year to low- and middle-income countries, Anand pledged that the federal government would continue to support developing countries.

“In the future, our government will maintain a reserve of vaccines of approximately four million doses which will be administered by the minister.” [Patty] Hajdu and the [Public Health Agency of Canada], in consultation with the provinces and territories,” she said.

“The goal of the reserve is to ensure that Canadians have vaccines on hand when they are needed, while also ensuring that doses are available for other countries.”

Canadian doses designated as surplus would be donated to international partners “on an ongoing basis as agreed and facilitated” by then-Minister for International Development, Karina Gould, she said.

VIEW | Federal government promises reserve limit for vaccines:

Federal government promises vaccine reserve limit

Former Procurement Secretary Anita Anand said on Aug. 12 that Canada will keep a reserve of about four million vaccines for Canadians to access if needed, and said the rest will be used in other countries. 1:38

It’s reasonable to have some extra doses on hand, since vaccine supply and demand don’t always match perfectly, said Dr. Zain Chagla, an infectious disease physician at St. Joseph’s Healthcare Hamilton and an associate professor at McMaster University. .

“But at the same time it is a problem to have such a large reserve,” he said. “Not just an issue with the context of eight million doses in the federal reserve, and probably more in provincial reserves. There’s a problem that those doses have to be administered on our soil now.”

World Health Organization and UNICEF officials have said some countries are receiving surplus vaccines from wealthier countries that are about to expire, making it difficult to distribute them.

“It grew and it continued to grow even after vaccine campaigns slowed,” Chagla said of the federal reserve.

Officials posed next to Canada’s first donated doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine, which arrived in three countries in Africa on September 2, 2021. The doses were part of a Canadian pledge to COVAX. (Gavi)

Canada’s Promises

During the pandemic, Canada has provided vaccines and financial support to other countries through global efforts such as the COVAX Vaccine Sharing Initiative, which pools funds from wealthier countries to buy vaccines for those countries and and middle-income countries also have access.

As of Thursday, Canada has donated more than 9.2 million excess vaccine doses through COVAX. Canada has also shared 762,080 doses of AstraZeneca through bilateral agreements with countries in Latin America and the Caribbean.

“One of the big concerns about donation is that Canada hasn’t shared many doses,” Houston said.

“When you consider that for much of this time alone we’ve had over 10 million doses in the central vaccine inventory, that really raises a lot of questions about Canada’s ability to do more.”

As of Thursday, Canada has donated more than 9.2 million excess vaccine doses through COVAX. (Rogelio V. Solis/AP photo)

In a statement, a Health Canada spokesperson said that when the supply of vaccines is deemed “excess for domestic needs, the Canadian government is working to donate these doses”.

The statement went on to say that the federal government has been working with provinces and territories to ensure “sufficient supply” is available for vaccination campaigns across the country.

“The government of Canada is also holding doses on behalf of provinces and territories already allocated for domestic use, including delivery to support booster campaigns,” the statement said.

Public Services and Procurement Canada withdrew comment to Health Canada.

Need for transparency

Vaccine equality proponents say Canada needs to be more transparent about what it does with its excess doses going forward, given that at least a million doses have already expired here.

“We don’t need the kind of stockpiles of six to ten million doses more than we need. There’s just a huge risk — that’s a risk that they expire,” said Julia Anderson, CEO of the Canadian Partnership for Women and Children’s Health . , a multi-stakeholder nonprofit that aims to improve Canada’s global impact and reputation.

“Canadians need vaccines to get into guns. And that’s both to get into Canadian guns, but the race now is to get it into guns around the world if you don’t want another Omicron that much more deadly.” is.”

In particular, details such as timelines are needed for some of Canada’s commitments, lawyers say.

“I really want them to have a mandate, a timeline, and a plan to make sure that if there are too many vaccines, they will actually be delivered worldwide,” said Ananya Tina Banerjee, an assistant professor at McGill University’s School of Population. and Global Health and at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health at the University of Toronto.

“If Canadians are to get their lives back, there must be a no-excuse approach to solving this global challenge.

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