Who would have thought that the response to having viable vaccines against covid-19 could be a source of discord and introduce a new form of nationalism? But that’s what’s happened over the past couple of weeks, even as more vaccines are approved and more people are getting “the jab”. What is happening is that the basic inequalities in the world are being highlighted by the ability of richer nations to buy up the supply of jabs, against the lack of capacity of poorer countries. And Canada is right in the centre of the issue.
We generally like to think that the world sees Canada and Canadians as among the good guys, the nice, polite, strong without being pushy kind of country. But we have been getting some bad press recently and, compared to places like New Zealand, Canada is not looking great these days.
The vaccine situation came to the fore last week, when the European Union tried to block vaccines from getting to the United Kingdom, claiming that their contracts with one firm, Astra-Zenica, gave them the right to millions of jabs that they said were being diverted to the U.K. This raised the matter of “vaccine nationalism”, as it is being called. The statistics that were revealed cast a wider shadow than just the EU-UK dispute.
It seems the EU has ordered enough vaccine doses to give each of their citizens twice as many jabs as they need – 1.6 billion. The United States has bought 1.2 billion doses, enough to give each of their citizens 3.7 doses. But the really big surprise, and something of a scandal in the eyes of the world, is that Canada has ordered 362 million doses, enough to give each one of us almost 10 jabs (remember, we probably only need two). This is, by far, the most excessive amount of any country in the world.
Compared to Canada, other countries are lacking enough vaccine doses to provide adequate protection for their people. The African Union countries have only enough to give .2 doses per person, one-tenth of what they need. The World Health Organization [WHO] has called the situation “a looming catastrophic moral failure”. It has the potential to undermine the effectiveness of the vaccine program worldwide. The fact is that vaccine nationalism is pointless and even dangerous. This is a global pandemic, which means that, even if each and every Canadian got the 9.6 doses of vaccine the government has ordered, we would still not be safe if the rest of the world continued to be vulnerable to variants of covid that would most likely develop in unvaccinated nations. All the restrictions would need to be maintained in the long term, to ensure that we didn’t import a variant that the current vaccinations might not be able to handle.
But it’s not all bad, and it is certainly not inevitable. There is a growing movement to transfer unused vaccines from places like Canada to where there is a lack. The WHO has set up the Covax group, to ensure that vaccines are shared equitably around the world. It has agreed deals for 1.1 billion doses so far, though that is less than half of the combined total for the EU, UK, and US. There is even a move to have a Canadian-made vaccine in action this year, and the more vaccines that are developed, the more people will get vaccinated.
Yes, Canada is looking a little greedy right now, and that comes on top of a few other bad news stories coming from here. Internationally, we’ve grabbed headlines for that despicable couple who traveled to a northern community and pretended to be locals in order to get vaccinated. They’ve been fined a couple of thousand dollars, but he earned some thing like $46 million last year, so that hardly hurts him. There is some talk of turning the fine into jail time, and that might be more effective in deterring other selfish millionaires.
Then there was the story about our late Governor General and her diva-style treatment of staff and taxpayers’ dollars in Rideau Hall. And she seemed such a nice lady! That scandal didn’t do Justin Trudeau any good either, as people began to wonder why he hadn’t known about her previous departures from jobs under similar clouds. Yes, Canada’s reputation has taken something of a beating recently, but nothing that will make a permanent dent in the world’s image of us.
It may be surprising and rather irritating to realise that Justin Trudeau is almost as popular a world leader as Jacinda Ardern, Prime Minister of New Zealand. Except, naturally, in Canada, where he is not perhaps equally well thought of. But then, we know more than the rest of the world. They only get the headlines and photo ops. We get the whole scoop. And five times as many vaccine doses as we need.