On August 16, GSL Research Fellow Roojin Habibi, GSL Director Steven Hoffman and University of Toronto Professor Lisa Forman published an Op-Ed in the Toronto Star arguing that Canada should support the World Health Organization’s (WHO) moratorium on COVID-19 booster shots and exercise its contractual obligations to purchase 400 million COVID vaccine doses and donate them immediately and exclusively to low- and middle-income countries (LMICs).
In the article, they write that wealthy countries like Canada have contributed to a growing vaccine apartheid: 83% of the 4.5bn COVID-19 jabs administered have gone to people in high- and upper-middle-income countries, while 99% of people in LMICs have yet to receive even a single dose. In early August, the WHO called for a moratorium on COVID-19 vaccine booster shots until at least 10% of people in every country, including all health workers, have been vaccinated.
This opinion is not to question the efficacy of booster shots. Booster shots are often effective in protecting against vaccine-preventable diseases, and they may eventually be needed for COVID-19. But experts do not yet agree on whether COVID-19 boosters are necessary for most people and, if so, when or how often.
In the coming weeks and months, Leaders must make tough choices in the face of scary trends, including the more transmissible Delta variant, and vaccine hesitancy. Yet a precautionary approach to hoarding potential booster doses denies their productive use in places where they are desperately needed today. This could create conditions for new variants to emerge, increasing the likelihood that 4th and 5th booster doses will be needed, and possibly requiring the invention of new COVID-19 vaccines.
Habibi, Hoffman and Forman call on Canada and other G7 countries to show support for WHO’s moratorium and speak out against mainstreaming booster shots until each country has received enough vaccines to cover their health workers and most vulnerable populations. Furthermore, they argue that Canada has a unique opportunity for leadership in global health. The country has options to purchase 400 million more COVID vaccine doses. The authors argue that Canada should exercise its contractual options for those vaccine doses in order to immediately donate them to the countries with the least access. Declining these contractual options will mean the extra doses end up on the open market where they will almost certainly go to other rich countries with a renewed appetite for bulk purchasing in light of booster nationalism
They close by writing that redirecting this massive vaccine supply to where it is most needed would be an important redemptive act that could help save millions of lives.
Read the full piece here.