CARE Canada Statement: Canada must support temporary waiver of WTO TRIPS obligations to ensure fast and fair vaccine delivery

OTTAWA, 16 DECEMBER 2021 – Nearly two years into the pandemic, Canadians know that our own recovery and resilience to COVID-19 and its variants are directly linked to the recovery and resilience of people and communities everywhere.

However, this understanding is not reflected in our collective efforts to ensure equitable access to vaccines for everyone around the world. As of 15 December 2021, only 7.3% of people in low-income countries have received one dose—and this inequity contrasts starkly with the 56.2% of the global population, and the 81.8% of Canadians who have received one dose.

Poverty and injustice continue to intersect with the effects of the pandemic and discriminate against vulnerable communities. Scaled-up efforts are urgently needed to end this pandemic and prevent new variants such as Omicron. But these efforts are undermined by a lack of political and funding support to enable rights-based, equitable vaccine delivery at scale, to the last mile, and which leaves no one behind.

In Le Devoir, E. Richard Gold, Joanne Liu and Jean-Frédéric Morin outline critical steps that Canada must take now, steps in line with the government’s commitments to principled foreign policy and assistance, to speed up the production of and access to vaccines in low-income countries. They call for Canada to show “political courage” and facilitate greater access to vaccines in two essential ways: by amending its Access to Medicines Regime (CAMR) to include COVID-19 vaccines, medicines, tests, and other pharmaceuticals, allowing the generic production of vaccines and export to countries such as Bolivia; and by joining over 100 World Trade Organization (WTO) members and others to support the temporary suspension of intellectual property rules on COVID-19 products.

Greater access to vaccines must also be accompanied by investments in health systems to deliver them. Health systems are powered by women, who are on the frontlines of the pandemic around the world, and are the key to equitable, rights-based, last-mile delivery.

Yet women's critical role in ending the pandemic has not been prioritized. While they constitute 70% of the global health workforce, they are only a quarter of those at decision-making tables, and are often in unpaid or informal roles. They are at risk and lack protection themselves: in 24 low- and middle-income countries where CARE has data, women are less likely to be vaccinated, and less likely to feel vaccines are safe.

However, it is precisely the support of health workers in last-mile delivery that many low- and middle-income countries are seeking. By May of 2021, lacking investments in last-mile delivery meant that South Sudan had to return 72,000 vaccine doses to COVAX and destroy another 60,000 expired doses. In contrast, subsequent investments in South Sudan’s delivery system by the international community enabled South Sudan to deliver, and not return or destroy, vaccines before their 18 July expiration date.

The investment in health systems delivery, and crucially women’s leadership, is essential to ensuring greater vaccine production and fast and fair distribution. Such investments prevent already-scarce resources from being diverted from essential health services. Emerging data released by the Global Financing Facility in September 2021 indicates that twice as many women and children have died from reductions in the utilization of essential health services due to disruptions from COVID-19 than from COVID-19 directly.

These outcomes are a tragedy and a call to action. Without robust political and financial support to end the pandemic everywhere, Canada’s longstanding commitments to principled international assistance and solidarity—including under the Feminist International Assistance Policy—are being undermined. The imperatives for political action to reduce trade and production barriers and for increased financial investments for equitable vaccine access could not be clearer.

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CARE Canada
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About CARE Canada:

Founded in 1945 with the creation of the CARE Package®, CARE develops solutions alongside women and girls in developing countries to lift themselves, their families, and their communities out of poverty and out of crisis. CARE stands with women and girls around the world in economic empowerment. We bring women, girls, and their communities together to challenge inequality while facing issues like food insecurity, climate change, and emergency relief in times of crisis or disaster. CARE works in 100 countries around the world.

To learn more about CARE Canada, visit www.care.ca