Canada in tough place, but more vaccine doses key to getting out of this pandemic: WHO adviser

OTTAWA — Canada is in a tough situation as COVID-19 variants are spreading and cases are rising amid a third wave of the pandemic but, along with the rest of the world, it will overcome the ongoing crisis with increased vaccinations, says Dr. Peter Singer, a special adviser to the director general of the World Health Organization.

“It’s a very tough moment now but at the same time, the vaccines are rolling out and the hope is there,” Singer said in an interview on CTV’s Question Period airing on Sunday. “This is really maybe the darkness before the dawn.”

Singer, who is Canadian, said that the WHO’s number one issue of concern right now is vaccine equity, noting that while hundreds of millions of doses have been administered around the world, the distribution has been uneven.

“The vaccination coverage in high-income countries is about fivefold larger than in non-high income countries, and that’s a very serious situation. It’s for ethical reasons, for economic reasons in terms of restarting the world economy. And I would say also for peace and security,” Singer said.

“When we talk about vaccine equity, three things can be scarce: dollars… doses… and domestic manufacturing,” Singer said, adding that the “chokepoint” right now is supply.

“Better supply will mean more doses distributed, more vaccine equity and helping the world get out of this terrible situation as quickly as possible.”

Singer said Canada should be supportive of the push to have the leading pharmaceutical companies like Pfizer and Moderna waive their patents to global manufacturers to use their formulas, enabling much more production of these potentially life-saving shots.

“I think Canada should, and will hopefully support domestic manufacturing at home and abroad, because that’s how to up the supply. That’s how countries can be self reliant. That’s how to achieve vaccine equity. And that’s how to end this pandemic, and help us prevent and respond to future ones and they will come,” Singer said.

While Canada doesn’t currently have sufficient domestic vaccine manufacturing capabilities to begin producing the mRNA vaccines, work is underway on a facility in Quebec to eventually be able to produce other forms of COVID-19 vaccines at home. Until then, like many other countries, Canada is dependent on shipments from Europe, India, and the United States where the four Health Canada-approved vaccines are being made.

During a press conference on Friday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau implored Canadians to “hang in there,” as case counts keep rising, and to do their part to limit the spread of COVID-19 “to give a chance for vaccines to take hold and to allow us to get to what will hopefully be a much more normal summer.”

While Canada is continuing to increase its daily rate of vaccinations amid secured deliveries of millions of doses over the coming weeks, the sluggish rollout early on and the inability to tamp down enough on the spread of variants of concern has seen many parts of the country put under a third round of lockdown measures in an effort to try to flatten the curve once again.

Offering some optimism, Singer said that the COVID-19 pandemic will end, and then the focus will be on an equitable recovery and preparing for the next global pandemic.

“We have to do it together, there is hope,” he said. 

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