The Key to Beating COVID-19

Although it is only natural and proper for governments to focus on vaccinating their citizens first, it is important not to lose sight of the big picture. The only way we can beat COVID-19 is to defeat it everywhere, and the best way to do that is through multilateral facilities like COVAX.

© UNICEF/UN0436322/Cho Mayak
© UNICEF/UN0436322/Cho Mayak


It has been a year since the coronavirus pandemic started dominating headlines and our lives. For so many here in Canada and around the world, it has been a period of unprecedented stress and grief. We have all been waiting to heave a sigh of relief once our families, friends, and communities receive their vaccines.

It is only natural that we would focus on the health of our loved ones. But we must not forget that the virus observes no borders. Focusing solely on our domestic responses is not enough. At the same time that we focus on vaccinations for high-risk Canadians, we must also ensure that the rest of the world is on track to being vaccinated, too, and that everyone has access to safe and effective tests and treatments. Beating this virus anywhere requires beating it everywhere.

Fighting a virus on a global scale is a daunting task, but there is much cause for hope. We cheered in December, when a personal support worker in Toronto received Canada’s first COVID-19 vaccine. But now that the global rollout of vaccines through the COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access (COVAX) facility is well underway, we have even more reason to celebrate.

Since February 24, tens of millions of doses have been delivered to over 70 countries around the world, making this the largest and most rapid global vaccination campaign in history. In Ghana and Ivory Coast, health-care workers and high-risk populations were among the first to be vaccinated with COVAX doses, and similar campaigns are now proceeding in Nigeria, Jamaica, and Albania. We are witnessing the global response at work, and we should recognize it for the important milestone that it is.

Canada joined COVAX last September because we believed wholeheartedly in its mission to accelerate the development and manufacture of COVID-19 vaccines and ensure equitable delivery. The facility was created to guarantee access to a wide variety of vaccines, and to put smaller and poorer countries on a more equal footing vis-à-vis larger and wealthier ones. By purchasing in bulk, COVAX can spread doses around the world in the fairest and most cost-effective way possible.

COVAX was designed as a truly cooperative partnership. With 190 participating countries, it represents more than 90% of the global population, and can command far more purchasing power than most countries could on their own. Moreover, when COVAX was created, no one knew which vaccines would work, or which would be approved first. That is why Canada called upon COVAX to procure some of its own doses. Our agreement with COVAX complemented our other contracts, and increased our chances of carrying out a successful domestic vaccination campaign, while doing our part globally.

Complementing our own procurement efforts, Canada has launched investments that will also help to make vaccines, therapeutics, and diagnostics affordable and accessible globally. Owing to our various advance purchase agreements, we could eventually end up with a surplus of vaccine doses. Precisely when that might happen will be determined in the coming weeks and months, as Health Canada completes its review of vaccine candidates, and as we confirm the deployment of vaccines in Canada.

Regardless of when we reach a surplus, we will work closely with our international partners – including other countries, Gavi, COVAX, and vaccine manufacturers – to explore all possible options for delivering doses to those who need them. It will take time to vaccinate the entire global population. COVAX has already secured more than two billion doses for 2021, but we now need to muster the same spirit of global cooperation to ensure that this supply continues to increase, so that no vulnerable populations are left behind.

We can take heart in knowing that we are not starting from square one. Canada has been funding global health projects in developing countries for decades, and we will continue to do so. These investments are aiding the fight against polio, HIV, tuberculosis, malaria, and Ebola, and they have proved critical in helping countries respond to the COVID-19 crisis with proven, adaptable public-health responses, such as mass testing and contact tracing.

If this crisis has taught us anything, it is that we must maintain the capacity to adapt to fast-changing conditions. Less than a year after the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic, we had developed and approved safe and effective vaccines, which are now reaching the people who need them most.

The importance of the COVAX facility cannot be understated. It is one of the signal achievements of the current era. For the first time ever, the world has come together to ensure equitable, universal vaccine access.

Our global and domestic responses to the coronavirus are inextricably linked, which is why COVAX is our best bet for overcoming the pandemic. When international cooperation succeeds, we all succeed.


Karina Gould is Canada’s Minister of International Development.


This article was first published by Project Syndicate on 12 April 2021. Copyright: Project Syndicate, 2019.