Canada’s deputy prime minister, Chrystia Freeland, says we have a responsibility to make sure COVID-19 isn’t only quashed within our own borders, but abroad as well.
Her comments come on the heels of a G20 meeting in Venice, where the leaders of the 20 most powerful economies in the world agreed that global economic recovery is at risk as a result of the rise of new COVID-19 variants — a risk that is heightened by some nations’ poor access to vaccines.
“We are focused on doing everything which is necessary to make sure that Canadians are safe and make sure that Canadians are vaccinated. And I really want to congratulate Canadians, because we have seen such enthusiasm in our country for going out and getting vaccinated,” Freeland said to reporters on Saturday during a teleconference.
“Having said that, we also absolutely recognize that this is a global pandemic, that we have both a practical and a moral duty to fight the pandemic around the world.”
In Canada, over 78 per cent of the population has received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. Another 48 per cent were fully vaccinated as of Saturday, according to COVID-19 Tracker Canada.
Those figures are starkly contrasted by vaccine rates in many other countries around the world — where some have first-dose coverage that’s as low as one per cent.
“In some parts of the world, the vaccination rates, even at one dose, are one per cent, two per cent, three per cent, five per cent,” said Dr. Peter Singer, an advisor with the WHO, in an interview with Global News.
“To be safe is for this fire to be put out everywhere in the world, because otherwise, if it’s burning anywhere, it’s going to be casting off embers that are going to ignite flames everywhere.”
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Singer isn’t alone in his concern.
Infectious disease specialists have voiced similar warnings, noting that helping other nations isn’t a selfless act — it actually protects everyone.
“When (COVID is) burning in other places, it’s really a plane ride away. So that can result in outbreaks here as well,” said Dr. Sumon Chakrabarti.
“Getting vaccines to everybody around the world will benefit all of us.”
Beyond helping to save lives abroad, experts say that tackling COVID-19 also helps keep the world ahead of one of the biggest risk factors of the pandemic — variants.
As a virus spreads, it replicates. With each opportunity the virus has to replicate, it has more and more chances to make a mistake. Sometimes, those mistakes end up being advantageous for the virus — either allowing it to spread more easily, or potentially making the virus more severe.
The more COVID-19 spreads, the more opportunities it has to replicate and mutate. That means the biggest risk for the creation of variants is the large pockets of the world where uncontrolled spread is still occurring, Infectious Disease Specialist Dr. Zain Chagla explained to Global News.
“The big things that lead to variants are large unvaccinated populations, particularly ones where health systems are really poor and patients with immune conditions,” he said.
Canada has taken steps to try to help bolster vaccination efforts around the world, Freeland said on Saturday.
The government has contributed $1.3 billion to the World Health Organization’s ACT accelerator, which aims to establish a framework involving governments, philanthropists and civil society — to name a few — that work together to help ensure the global vaccination rollout runs smoothly.
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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also pledged to contribute 100 million vaccine doses to global vaccination efforts at the G7 meeting in June.
But experts are eyeing the world’s vaccine priorities with some concern after Pfizer recently announced its plans to craft a fresh vaccine aimed at combatting the Delta variant of COVID-19. If approved, it could be the third jab some receive, while some countries are still waiting for their first vaccines.
“There is an ethical concern about prioritizing dose three for Americans over doses one and two for the rest of the world,” John Moore, a virologist at Weill Cornell Medicine in New York, told Global News.
“The general feeling is that it is not the right time for a third dose of the mRNA vaccines.”
While there are few studies showing how long the protection provided by COVID-19 vaccines lasts, the early research is promising.
A study published in the journal Nature in late June found mRNA-based vaccines create a more “persistent” germinal centre B cell response, which means that a person’s immune response to the jab is stronger and longer-lasting.
The researchers examined participants four months after they received their first Pfizer dose and found that the germinal centres in their lymph nodes, likened to a boot camp for immune cells, kept pumping out the cells needed to protect against COVID-19.
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This has led some to question Pfizer’s motivations in pursuing the new booster shot.
“It’s being (said) that Pfizer is being somewhat opportunistic,” said Moore.
“Pushing the idea of vaccine boosters will, of course, greatly increase vaccine sales.”
And while Pfizer backed up its latest research plans with claims that the “continued emergence of variants are expected,” experts say the lack of vaccine coverage around the world remains a much bigger threat when it comes to deadly mutations of the virus.
“We can build vaccines to make ourselves more protected against the evolution of this virus,” Chagla said.
“But if we’re not addressing the root cause of the evolution of this virus, then we’re going to be left with chasing our tails over and over and over again.”
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