Apr 26, 2022

By Jane Brown

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With pandemic restrictions easing across Canada, members of the House of Commons foreign affairs committee have been cautioned to expect disruptive new variants of COVID-19 to continue to emerge every few months.

The warning comes from Gavi, the international organization leading the distribution of vaccines to the developing world, and a senior United Nations Children’s Agency expert.

Seth Berkley, the head of Gavi, says while Canada is offering fourth doses of COVID vaccines and has a vaccination rate above 80 percent of the population, the global rate is fewer than 60 percent. And in the poorest 18 countries, he points out fewer than 10 percent of people are fully vaccinated.

Berkley said with 2.7 billion people unvaccinated around the world COVID-19 has ample space to mutate into new variants, including the recent Omicron strain, which is sickening triple-vaccinated people in the developed world.

“Even though many countries with high coverage have now relaxed restrictions and reopened their societies, we are still in a state of global crisis,” said Berkley. “So far, a new variant has emerged roughly every four to five months, and globally, nothing has changed to give us reason to believe that this pattern won’t continue.”

Lily Caprani, the head of global health, vaccines and pandemic response for UNICEF, said it is in the “enlightened self-interest” of countries such as Canada to increase vaccination rates everywhere, otherwise there will be a continuing cycle of new variants emerging.

“As we know, a new variant continues to emerge every four months or so and the threat is not over, either to those vulnerable populations, or to any country, even with high vaccine coverage,” Caprani said.

Earlier this month, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced Canada is increasing its contribution to COVAX, the international vaccine sharing alliance that GAVI is leading, to $700-million to help purchase, deliver and distribute COVID-19 vaccines to lower income countries.

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