Calling on Canada to back WHO Moratorium on Booster Shots and Donate Vaccines

The following article is adapted from the website of the Global Strategy Lab (GSL), a joint initiative of York University and the University of Ottawa. It excerpts from an August 16 opinion article in the Toronto Star by GSL Research Fellow Dr. Roojin Habibi, GSL Director Dr. Steven Hoffman and University of Toronto Professor Dr. Lisa Forman. As I wrote in a previous blog, RNAO supports at this time giving COVID-19 booster shots only to individuals with weak immune systems and those over 80 years old and we oppose the mainstreaming of booster shots to broader populations, for the reasons detailed by the authors.

The authors argue 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, the authors write that wealthy countries like Canada have contributed to a growing vaccine apartheid: 83% of the 4.5bn COVID-19 vaccines 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 (see article above) 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, country 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.

Like vaccine nationalism, booster nationalism is an ineffective, divisive and self-defeating approach to stopping a mercurial virus that could soon evolve faster than we can contain it. But it’s more than just bad science for countries to be thinking of hoarding vaccines at a time when much of the world remains unprotected — it also undermines the collective duties of responsible countries with human rights obligations that transcend national frontiers.

Drs. 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.