It can never be said enough: vaccination is essential if we are to put an end to the pandemic. To date, more than 80% of eligible Canadians have been adequately vaccinated—and we can congratulate ourselves on this heartening statistic. Around the country, we have even started to think more and more about living with the virus. This is a significant step toward ending the pandemic, which mass vaccination will have made possible.
The situation is very different in developing countries, where just 6% of the population has received a first dose. Having practised humanitarian medicine, I have seen for myself the pressing need for international medical aid. I can say with great certainty that COVID-19 has only accentuated existing problems, which create a risk for these populations and for us too.
Changing our perspective
A pandemic is by definition an epidemic that affects a large international area. For almost two years now, each country and territory has been working according to their own rules as if the disease was unique to them. This is understandable to a degree, as it is true that the situation varies from one place to another—be it in terms of hospital capacity or population demographics.
However, it is high time that we deal with this problem for what it is: a global issue. Working in isolation has quickly shown its limits, particularly as multiple mutations of the virus have appeared and which continuously delay the end of the crisis further into the future. In the long term, only a sufficiently high vaccination rate of the global population will get us out of the pandemic once and for all.
According to an IPSOS survey conducted for the Canadian Medical Association, 75% of Canadians believe that international vaccination is essential to finally put an end to the crisis and that Canada currently has enough vaccines for its entire population.
I salute Canada’s commitment to helping the international vaccination effort, but we must do more. We must play a leading role on the international scene. Remember that it is by participating in the global vaccination effort that we will protect Canada from future waves and reduce the likelihood of vaccine-resistant variants emerging. Variants respect no borders!
There are many ways to move things forward. Canada may, among other things, provide quicker access to its vaccine stockpile and allow local production of vaccines to facilitate distribution.
Other than the logistic aspects, it is important to understand that it is not enough to simply distribute vaccines and organize personnel. We have to show sensitivity and understanding. Some people, for historical and political reasons, may exhibit strong vaccine hesitancy. This must be treated as a legitimate concern and be taken into account when setting up international vaccination campaigns.
Equitable access to vaccines is not just a fundamental public health tool—it is a right. Canada is a human rights model for the entire world. Let’s set an example once more.
Dr. Abdo Shabah, Emergency physician and Canadian Medical Association spokesperson
This open letter was originally published in Le Soleil