When the world comes together, anything is possible

DIPLOMATIC POUCH - Peter Macarthur (The Philippine Star) - May 6, 2021 - 12:00am

This year’s World Immunization Week recently coincided with the first anniversary of the COVAX ACT-Accelerator vaccine procurement/distribution facility. So more than a year into the pandemic is an opportune time to take stock of how Canada and the Philippines are together grappling with this deadly virus.

Globally, COVID-19 continues to intensify as cases, positivity rates and deaths increase. Canada is today facing a third wave stimulated by more transmissible variants of concern which has pushed infections to record levels. Like in the Philippines, vaccine deliveries in Canada have been slower than expected. Equitable allocation of scarce doses, raw materials and vials is an ongoing challenge the world continues to address.

The Canadian government last summer negotiated contracts with several vaccine manufacturers representing a range of technologies and supply capacities without knowing which vaccine candidate would work or not. In managing future risks, Canada joined early on with other countries whose significant pre-payments helped fund the costly research & development that enabled the medical sciences miracle allowing the production of effective vaccines within one year of COVID’s first outbreak.

Like other first mover countries last year, in hedging our bets happily more vaccine suppliers have proven to be successful than anticipated, which ultimately will mean that if all contracted deliveries arrive over the coming months, Canada will experience a surplus of doses. Recognizing this opportunity to contribute internationally, Prime Minister Trudeau announced publicly in December that Canada commits to sharing in the future any of our excess doses with low- and middle-income countries. From the beginning, Canada realized that a global pandemic left to spread anywhere is a threat everywhere. This reality prompted early engagement with the international community to establish the COVAX Facility to develop and deliver tests, treatment and vaccines so that not one country is left behind.

A year later, COVAX is working non-stop, so far securing over 2 billion doses and shipping 40 million doses to 100 countries including the Philippines. Starting last summer, Canada also contributed to international efforts to ship personal protective equipment, diagnostics, broad spectrum anti-virals, support treatment and strengthen health systems in developing countries.

This rapid and successful global effort is only the first phase in the largest and most complex vaccine rollout in history. To date challenges to getting the demand/supply balance right are clearly evident in manufacturing and distribution capacity. The mobilization of $14 billion in anti-COVID measures by governments, the private sector and multilateral organizations to date is unprecedented. The Asian Development Bank, World Bank and AIIB have provided the Philippines with over $1 billion to buy vaccines.

Recently Canada’s federal budget proposed an additional Cad$375-million contribution to our development assistance on top of the Cad$3 billion Canada has to date committed to the overall international COVID response. This includes last year’s Cad$325 million COVAX donation for countries such as the Philippines. An additional $84.5 million has been allocated to COVID-related humanitarian appeals such as a recent Cad$10-million donation to India.

As a reflection of the reality that nobody is safe until we are all safe, Canada’s International Development Minister co-chairs the COVAX AMC Engagement Group alongside Indonesia’s Foreign Minister and the Health Minister of Ethiopia. This attention to governance aims to ensure collaboration, transparency and improvements in the optimization of this complicated, high pressure and long-term process.

To conclude, while still a work in progress despite all the challenges, the multilateral system is working at its best. This pandemic knows no borders and our solutions should not either. It’s not vaccines that save people, it’s vaccinations.

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Peter MacArthur is Canada’s Ambassador to the Philippines.

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