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What is COVAX and why is Canada getting backlash for receiving vaccines from it? –



Amid a massive immunization effort, the Canadian government is finding itself on the defensive for its decision to receive COVID-19 vaccines from the global initiative known as COVAX.

Canada will receive 1.9 million doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine — pending regulatory approval — from the program by the end of June, according to an update released by COVAX on Wednesday on the first phase of its vaccine delivery. Federal opposition leaders decried it as an embarrassment and “the wrong decision” by the government.

In light of the controversy, here’s what you need to know about what COVAX is, who is involved and how Canada factors in. 

What is COVAX?

COVAX is a global vaccine-sharing initiative jointly co-ordinated by the World Health Organization, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, and Gavi, The Vaccine Alliance.

According to the WHO website, the goal of COVAX is “to accelerate the development and manufacture of COVID-19 vaccines, and to guarantee fair and equitable access for every country in the world.”

It was launched in April 2020, in response to the pandemic, as part of a four-pronged effort by WHO and partners to support global efforts to fight the disease. (In addition to vaccines, the other three pillars of that effort are diagnostics, treatment and health-system strengthening).

How does it work?

The program pools funds from wealthier countries that are used not only to buy vaccines for those countries but also to ensure low- and middle-income countries have access.

According to the Gavi website, higher-income, “self-financing” countries pay into the procurement platform of COVAX, to place vaccine orders for their own populations, as part of a financial mechanism known as Advance Market Committment (AMC).

“Upfront payments on these orders will help [COVAX] ensure that manufacturing is ramped up before vaccines have been approved, not after,” Gavi’s website states.

Once vaccines are approved by WHO, AMC funds will then pay for the purchase of vaccines for lower-income countries. So, the participation of wealthier countries is part of the program’s design.

COVAX has agreements with multiple vaccine-makers to buy about two billion doses this year, which will be distributed among the member nations to vaccinate up to one-fifth of each country’s population. Under the program, half of the two billion doses would go to lower-income countries.

A pharmacist gives a woman the AstraZeneca vaccine in London, England, on Thursday. Health Canada regulators have not yet approved the AstraZeneca vaccine but a decision is expected in the next couple of weeks. (Yui Mok/PA/The Associated Press)

Who’s in on it?

More than 180 countries are involved in COVAX, including Canada, Brazil, Australia, the United Kingdom, Israel, Turkey and China. The European Commission, on behalf of 27 EU member states plus Norway and Iceland, has also joined as “Team Europe.”

Among them, 92 are low- and middle-income countries that are eligible to have their participation supported by the COVAX AMC. They include India, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Turkey, Indonesia, Vietnam, North Korea and Afghanistan.

The United States and Russia are among the countries who have not joined, opting to sign their own supply deals.

What is Canada’s role?

The federal government bought into COVAX with $440 million in September, half of which secured doses for Canadians, and the other half to help buy doses for the 92 countries who need help to buy vaccines. 

In announcing funding for the initiative, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Canada intended to draw on the COVAX supply to bolster the vaccination campaign at home.

Canada has also ordered 20 million doses directly from AstraZeneca, independently from COVAX.

What’s the controversy?

Federal opposition leaders are pointing out that Canada is the only G7 country slated to draw from COVAX’s vaccine supply in the program’s first allotment. A few other wealthy countries, including New Zealand and Singapore, are also part of the first allotment, but the vast majority are lower-income countries.

Green Party Leader Annamie Paul said Canada’s reliance on the program for additional doses harms the country’s international reputation. She also said Canada’s move to take doses from COVAX could prolong transmission of the virus elsewhere and allow more variants to arise.

“This is the wrong decision, this is the wrong time to make this decision,” she said. “We are asking for the government to either rescind this decision, or alternatively make up for whatever doses it has taken out by returning them to the COVAX facility so that our international neighbours can enjoy the same protection we do.”

WATCH | NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh criticizes COVAX decision:

During question period, Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland defended the Liberal government’s decision to tap into COVAX vaccine supply. 1:06

Meanwhile, Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole said Canada would not be facing this dilemma if he were prime minister.

“We would not be in this position today because last year I was asking for independence on everything from PPE to vaccine manufacturing,” he said. “We should not be drawing away from poorer countries — we should be having the capacity here.”

How has the government responded?

In an interview with Power & Politics, International Development Minister Karina Gould defended the government’s decision, saying COVAX was part of the country’s wide-ranging vaccine portfolio “from the beginning.”

“Our top priority is to ensure that Canadians have access to vaccines,” Gould said. “COVAX’s objective is to provide vaccines for 20 per cent of the populations of all member states, both self-financing and those who will receive donations.”

WATCH | Minister defends Canada drawing on COVAX vaccine supply:

International Development Minister Karina Gould says Canada’s supply of vaccines from the COVAX facility is part of the country’s wide-ranging diverse portfolio. She says the government’s focus remains on vaccinating Canadians who want to get vaccinated. 1:49

Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland echoed Gould’s comments during Thursday’s question period, saying COVAX was always part of Canada’s procurement strategy and “the COVAX mechanism is working precisely as designed.”

“We’ve been clear from the start: No one will be safe until everyone is,” she said. “We’re focused on getting Canadians vaccinated while making sure the rest of the world is vaccinated too.”

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First cases of COVID-19 discovered in Canadian wildlife – CTV News



The first cases of COVID-19 in Canadian wildlife have been discovered in three white-tailed deer, a press release from Environment and Climate Change Canada reports.

The National Centre for Foreign Animal Disease confirmed the detections on Nov. 29 but the deer were sampled between Nov. 6 to 8 in the Estrie region of Quebec. The deer showed no evidence of clinical signs of disease and were “all apparently healthy.”

“As this is the first detection of SARS-CoV-2 in wildlife in Canada, information on the impacts and spread of the virus in wild deer populations is currently limited,” the press release states.

“The finding emphasizes the importance of ongoing surveillance for SARS-CoV-2 in wildlife to increase our understanding about SARS-CoV-2 on the human-animal interface.”

The World Organisation for Animal Health was notified about the discovery on Dec. 1.

The department is urging added precaution – like wearing a well-fitted mask – when exposed to “respiratory tissues and fluids from deer.”

The virus has been found in multiple animal species globally including farmed mink, cats, dogs, ferrets, and zoo animals such as tigers, lions, gorillas, cougars, otters and others.

“Recent reports in the United States have revealed evidence of spillover of SARS-CoV-2 from humans to wild white-tailed deer, with subsequent spread of the virus among deer. There has been no known transmission of SARS-CoV-2 from deer to humans at this time,” the release reads.

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U.N. seeks record $41 billion for aid to hotspots led by Afghanistan, Ethiopia



The United Nations appealed on Thursday for a record $41 billion to provide life-saving assistance next year to 183 million people worldwide caught up in conflict and poverty, led by a tripling of its programme in Afghanistan.

Famine remains a “terrifying prospect” for 45 million people living in 43 countries, as extreme weather caused by climate change shrinks food supplies, the U.N. said in the annual appeal, which reflected a 17% rise in annual funding needs.

“The drivers of needs are ones which are familiar to all of us. Tragically, it includes protracted conflicts, political instability, failing economies … the climate crisis, not a new crisis, but one which urges more attention and of course the COVID-19 pandemic,” U.N. aid chief Martin Griffiths told reporters.

In a report to donors, the world body said: “Without sustained and immediate action, 2022 could be catastrophic.”

Afghanistan, Syria, Yemen, Ethiopia and Sudan are the five major crises requiring the most funding, topped by $4.5 billion sought for Taliban-ruled Afghanistan where “needs are skyrocketing”, it said.

In Afghanistan, more than 24 million people require life-saving assistance, a dramatic increase driven by political tumult, repeated economic shocks, and severe food insecurity caused by the worst drought in 27 years.

“We are in the business in the U.N. of trying to urgently establish with support from the World Bank as well as the U.N. system, a currency swap initiative which will allow liquidity to go into the economy,” Griffiths said.

“The absence of cash in Afghanistan is a major impediment to any delivery of services,” he said. “I am hoping that we get it up and running before the end of this month.”

In Ethiopia, where a year-old conflict between government and Tigrayan forces has spread into the Amhara and Afar regions, thousands have been displaced, while fighting, drought and locusts push more to the brink, the U.N. said.

Nearly 26 million Ethiopians require aid, including more than 9 million who depend on food rations, including 5 million in Tigray, amid rising malnutrition rates, it said.

“Ethiopia is the most alarming probably almost certainly in terms of immediate emergency need,” Griffiths said, adding that 400,000 people had been deemed at risk of famine already in May.

Noting that heavy fighting continued, with government forces battling Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front forces who have moved closer to the capital Addis Ababa, he added: “But capacity to respond to an imploded Ethiopia is almost impossible to imagine.”


(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; editing by Richard Pullin)

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Doug Ford applauds new COVID-19 travel restrictions, says more discussions with feds to be held –



Ontario Premier Doug Ford thanked the federal government for implementing new travel restrictions in a bid to stop the spread of the Omicron COVID-19 variant and said more discussions will be held about possibly expanding new testing rules to travellers from the United States.

Ford made the remarks at an unrelated press conference in Mississauga Wednesday morning.

Several Omicron variant cases have already been confirmed in Ontario, and Ford said while it is a “cause for concern” it is “not cause for panic.”

“Every day we hold off more cases entering our country, the more time we have to learn and prepare,” Ford said.

Read more:

Canada expands travel ban, seeks booster guidance

“So the best thing we can do right now is fortify our borders. Our best defence is keeping the variant out of our country. We welcome the actions from the federal government and I want to thank the feds for taking action to date.

“We implored them last week to act quickly and be decisive on the borders and they did.”

In a statement last Friday, Ford called on the federal government to enact travel bans on “countries of concern” and the feds followed through just hours later.

On Tuesday, they expanded that ban to three additional countries.

Federal Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos said foreign nationals from Nigeria, Malawi and Egypt who have been to those countries over the past two weeks will not be able to enter Canada. This added to the seven other African countries barred by Canada on Friday: South Africa, Mozambique, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Lesotho and Eswatini.

Click to play video: 'Egypt, Malawi and Nigeria added to Canada‘s travel ban amid more restrictions'

Egypt, Malawi and Nigeria added to Canada‘s travel ban amid more restrictions

Egypt, Malawi and Nigeria added to Canada‘s travel ban amid more restrictions

Canadians and permanent residents, as well as all those who have the right to return to Canada, who have transited through these countries over the past two weeks, will have to quarantine, be tested at the airport, and await their test results before exiting quarantine, Duclos said.

It was also announced that all air travellers entering Canada — excluding those coming from the United States — would have to get tested when they arrive and isolate until they receive a negative result. That measure applies to all travellers, regardless of vaccination status.

Duclos said Wednesday that it will take time to implement the new measure.

In his statement last week, Ford also called for point-of-arrival testing to be put in place.

He also said he advised the province’s chief medical officer and Public Health Ontario to “immediately implement expanded surveillance” and update planning to “ensure we are ready for any outcome.”

The Omicron variant has now been detected in many countries around the world, including, as of Wednesday, the United States.

Ford was asked if he would support expanding the new testing rules to those arriving from the States.

“I would always support anything that can be cautious to prevent this variant coming into our country. So, again we’ll have a discussion with the federal government. That’s their jurisdiction, it’s not ours,” Ford said.

“They work collaboratively with all the provinces and territories and I’m always for going the cautious route as I think people have seen over the last 20 months.”

The premier added that “it doesn’t take much to get a test at the airport.”

Federal Transport Minister Omar Alghabra said Wednesday that it’s too early to say whether Canada’s latest requirement to test arriving air travellers will be extended to include those coming from the United States.

“We need to be prepared and ready if we need to adjust that decision to include travellers from the U.S. We haven’t made that decision yet,” he said.

Read more:

Feds, provinces considering expanding COVID-19 tests for U.S. travellers amid Omicron

When asked what provincial measures are being considered in response to the Omicron variant, Ford said they will make sure there is expanded testing capacity and contact tracing.

Health Minister Christine Elliott said there is still much that isn’t known about the variant, including how effective vaccines are against it.

She said the province is “continuing with all of our precautions” and said it’s important to keep border restrictions in place until more is known about the variant.

Elliott also said more information will be released in the coming days “with respect to age categories” on booster shots.

— With files from Saba Aziz and The Canadian Press

© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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