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The U.S. may soon have a vaccine surplus. Here’s what that means for Canada

The U.S. may soon have a vaccine surplus. Here’s what that means for Canada
Canada
With its America-first vaccine strategy, the U.S. is nearing a point when it will have enough supply to offer COVID-19 vaccine to all adult Americans. Current predictions suggest that will happen by the end of May.

So, once America is vaccinated first, the question inevitably becomes: Who’s second in line?

U.S. Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken this week hinted at talks that are happening on that front, after months of the United States keeping all of its Pfizer, Moderna and Janssen supply to itself, and only distributing four million AstraZeneca doses as “loans” to Canada and Mexico. Blinken said the Biden administration wants to “rise to the occasion worldwide” and start sharing soon.

“By the end of May, we’ll have enough vaccine supply for all adults in America,” Blinken said Monday. “As we get more confident in our vaccine supply here at home, we are exploring options to share more with other countries going forward. We believe that we’ll be in a position to do much more on this front.”

The World Health Organization has called for the U.S. to start donating vaccine supply to countries that need it most, especially developing countries. Experts say America also has an interest in vaccinating its immediate neighbours, Canada and Mexico.

So when America has a vaccine surplus, where will it go?

Why has America been able to vaccinate so quickly compared to Canada?

The first reason is that the U.S. has access to a lot more vaccine than Canada does. Vaccines are being produced in America, while they are not being produced in Canada.

The second reason is that the government in the U.S. has been investing more and more resources in distributing vaccines — paying health care workers to give vaccines, for example — as its supply has grown. That’s meant that, since vaccines became available in December, the United States went from vaccinating fewer than one million people a day to about three million a day.

Canada has also ramped up its vaccination resources, but that has happened more slowly. As of Tuesday, Canada had administered just over six million first doses of vaccine — an amount equivalent to two days’ worth of vaccinations at the current rate in the U.S.

Will Canada get vaccine from America when all Americans are vaccinated?

Probably. But it’s unclear exactly when and how much vaccine will be allocated to Canada.

U.S. President Joe Biden and his administration have expressed a desire to share vaccine on a multilateral basis — including to Canada. There are two barriers that need to be overcome before that can happen.

The first is simply the America-first strategy the U.S. is using. The country is prioritizing protecting Americans directly with vaccine doses, first, the State Department said.

“Canada has remained our partner throughout the pandemic, including as we co-ordinate travel restrictions across our shared border to protect public health,” reads a portion of a statement sent to the Star from the State Department. “As President Biden has made clear, the United States supports multilateral approaches and will work as a partner to address global challenges.”

There is also a barrier baked into the contract language between the U.S. government and vaccine manufacturers that may make it difficult for the country to share vaccines.

In a groundbreaking story citing copies of the contracts between the U.S. government and vaccine companies, Vanity Fair reported that, as part of the negotiations for “Operation Warp Speed” the government agreed to contract language that commits to keeping vaccines in America.

“The Government may not use, or authorize the use of, any products or materials provided under this Project Agreement, unless such use occurs in the United States,” Vanity Fair reported the contracts with Pfizer, Moderna, AstraZeneca and Janssen state.

OK, so where are the vaccines Canada has purchased currently coming from?

Canada has purchase agreements with AstraZeneca, Moderna, Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson, as well as three other manufacturers of vaccine candidates that have not yet been approved.

All four of the approved vaccines are being produced in the U.S., but, because of the America-first strategy, that is not where most of Canada’s supply is coming from.

For example, Canada has an advance purchase agreement with AstraZeneca to buy 20 million doses of the vaccine. Canada expects those doses to come from the United States — eventually. In the meantime, Canada’s AstraZeneca supply is coming from the Serum Institute of India and a loan of doses from the U.S.

Canada also expects to eventually get some of its Johnson & Johnson vaccine from the U.S. Canada’s Pfizer and Moderna doses are expected to come from elsewhere.

“As a result of our diversified procurement approach, we are pulling vaccine from multiple locations around the world including: Europe, India, South Korea and the United States,” reads a portion of a statement provided by Procurement Minister Anita Anand to the Star.
Read more on Toronto Star
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