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OPINION: Are we still ‘all in this together?’

Rich countries lining up first for vaccine doses shows scale of global inequality
FILE — In this March 15, 2021 file photo boxes of AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine manufactured by the Serum Institute of India and provided through the global COVAX initiative arrive at the airport in Mogadishu, Somalia. Africa is “watching with total disbelief” as India struggles with a devastating resurgence in COVID-19 cases, the continent’s top public health official said Thursday, April 29, 2021, as African officials worry about delays in vaccine deliveries caused by India’s crisis. (AP Photo/Farah Abdi Warsameh/File)

Well I got my COVID shot.

I’m not sure how I feel about it, however, and it’s not for the reasons you’d think.

We’ve all been paying attention to the vaccine roll out in our communities, and to help protect my community I made an appointment, stood in line and got my shot. I want to have a more normal summer as much as anyone else. Having a high proportion of the population vaccinated is the way to do that. However, us having a good summer comes at the expense of many countries in the global south and could accidentally extend the whole pandemic for the whole world.

Early in the pandemic, Canada gave a lot of money to the companies manufacturing vaccines so that we would get them quickly, funding the development of the vaccines in the process. This is called a bilateral deal. The problem is, not all countries are able to do that. And since we weren’t sure which vaccines would make it past the trial stage, we bought a lot of vaccine doses. As of March 2021, Canada had purchased around 300 million doses, or roughly five doses per person. At the same time, there are poorer countries without that buying power which do not have enough doses to cover their essential workers. These countries, like India and Brazil, have faced very high case counts and saw their healthcare systems overwhelmed, just as we were ramping up our vaccine roll out.

RELATED: Canada doubles dollars to COVAX, but no sign of donating doses yet

There is a system in place to help make the vaccine more equitable, it is called COVAX. COVAX is designed to spread funding for development out, without powerful countries acting in their own interests. This multilateral deal system also asks richer countries to donate funding so all countries in the world get the vaccine at the same time. The problem here is we, and other rich countries, had already bought our doses before COVAX started, which undermines the whole system. Countries are also allowed to donate excess doses to COVAX, which will distribute them equitably. Basically, it allows rich countries like Canada and especially the United States to decide who gets the vaccines and when they get the vaccines.

By focusing on ourselves first, we decided, effectively, that we don’t care what happens in the rest of the world, as long as Canadians get vaccinated. I get it, when you look at it on a community level it makes a lot of sense to make sure we control the spread of the pandemic. That’s why I got my shot. However, when you look at COVID-19 as a global problem, we are playing a game of international NIMBY-ism saying “too bad, I got mine.”

I hope things get better over the next couple of months, that countries with smaller wallets are able to slow the spread of COVID and we’re able to move past all this in a timely manner. Unfortunately I don’t see how that could happen. Canada recently pledged to give more money to COVAX, but has not sent any vaccine doses. Unless we change course and roll out the vaccine equitably across the globe, we’ll keep seeing new variants (some which may be less resistant to vaccines), more cases and more deaths.

The response to a global pandemic should be global, and it should be equitable. Remember when we said “we’re all in this together?”

Are we?

RELATED: Pfizer-BioNTech pledge 2B doses to poor nations

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