A member of MSF’s mobile vaccination team prepares a dose of COVID-19 vaccine at a nursing home in Shayle (Mount Lebanon). © Tracy Makhlouf/MSF

MSF Response: Canada announces donation of 17.7 million AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine doses

The Government of Canada announced today that it will donate 17.7 million doses of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine to lower-income countries. This is an overdue but welcome step, said international medical humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF).   

Canada has secured over 400 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines — or over ten doses per Canadian — and is on track to receive enough of these doses by the end of July to fully vaccinate every eligible person. MSF calls on the Canadian government to commit to donating all remaining excess number of doses as soon as possible.  

While Canada joined other countries early in the pandemic in calling for global equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines, that is not how the rollout has unfolded. Rather than prioritizing the most vulnerable, wealthy countries like Canada have drawn more than their equitable share of the world’s limited supply to vaccinate their own low-risk populations — leaving many countries unable to protect high-risk populations like healthcare workers and elderly people.  

Today, as many high-income countries ease restrictions, only 1% of people in low-income countries have received even a single dose of vaccine. This leave billions of people at risk and allows new variants of COVID-19 to develop — which could put even fully vaccinated Canadians at risk. 

MSF also welcomes the additional financial support that Canada announced today for charitable efforts to purchase COVID-19 vaccine doses for people in lower-income countries. However, charity alone will not be the solution to this pandemic. Even generous financial contributions will have limited impact if there are no vaccines left to purchase. 

Canada needs to take action to increase the global supply of vaccines.  This includes actively supporting measures such as the temporary waiver of intellectual property protections at the World Trade Organization (the “TRIPS Waiver”) for vaccines and other vital tools needed in the COVID-19 response. It also involves addressing the broader inequities in the development and distribution of pharmaceuticals to prioritize lives over profits.  

Today’s announcement is a positive step, but we still face a huge gap in vaccine roll-out at the global level. This pandemic will not be over anywhere until people are vaccinated everywhere.