Canada Still Won't Commit To Supporting A Pandemic Patent Waiver
from the inexcusable dept
Few things illustrate the broken state of our global intellectual property system better than the fact that, well over a year into this devastating pandemic and in the face of a strong IP waiver push by some of the hardest hit countries, patents are still holding back the production of life-saving vaccines. And of all the countries opposing a waiver at the WTO (or withholding support for it, which is functionally the same thing), Canada might be the most frustrating.
Canada is the biggest hoarder of vaccine pre-orders, having secured enough to vaccinate the population five times over. Despite this, it has constantly run into supply problems and lagged behind comparable countries when it comes to administering the vaccines on a per capita basis. In response to criticism of its hoarding, the government continues to focus on its plans to donate all surplus doses to the COVAX vaccine sharing program — but these promises were somewhat more convincing before Canada became the only G7 country to withdraw doses from COVAX. Despite all this, and despite pressure from experts who explain how vaccine hoarding will prolong the pandemic for everyone, the country has continually refused to voice its support for a TRIPS patent waiver at the WTO.
Last week, the US finally said that it would support a waiver. This position has issues — there’s no commitment to a specific proposal, just to negotiating a new one, so the devil is very much in the details — but the top-line promise of support for the general concept is meaningful and welcome. Some suspected that Canada might finally follow suit with, at least, a similarly open-to-interpretation promise — but apparently the government can’t even go that far, and has stated that it’s still “weighing support”:
Following a meeting with his G7 counterparts, Foreign Affairs Minister Marc Garneau said discussion on whether to lift patents, as was done in the AIDS crisis, was â€œvery activeâ€ but said Canada is still weighing the options.
â€œCanadaâ€™s position is that we need to obtain more vaccines, we need to all put more money into the COVAX program, and by the way Canada is the fourth largest contributor to the COVAX program, and we need to discuss with manufactures whether theyâ€™re prepared to make licensing arrangements to allow greater production of the vaccine,â€ he said in an interview on CTV News Channelâ€™s Power Play.
This position is baffling and infuriating. Canada has already missed its chance to be a leader in the call for a truly cooperative global vaccine production strategy, and now it’s missing its opportunity to at least be an early supporter among high-income countries. Meanwhile, the country’s struggling rollout has convinced many citizens that its procurement has been too slow despite being the world’s biggest hoarder of orders. As other countries like India face devastation, the ruling Canadian Liberal party’s opposition (especially Conservative provincial premiers, who are among the most responsible for the failed rollout) are taking the opportunity to shift blame and bring dangerous isolationist dog whistles into the mainstream by claiming the country’s only real problem is poor border controls. Canada is also struggling to fund development of a homegrown vaccine, and build out domestic manufacturing capacity that was sorely lacking when the pandemic hit. All of this is ample reason for Canada to support an IP waiver that would increase global supply, stem the spread of COVID around the world and especially in hard-hit places like India that traditionally have lots of people traveling to the country, and maybe even accelerate domestic vaccine production. Instead, Canada is hedging its bets and letting its struggling pandemic response become a partisan football in a political debate laced with misinformation and toxic nationalism while millions of Canadians — and billions around the world — still wait for their chance to get vaccinated.