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Trudeau takes part in COVID-19 virtual pledging conference led by EU


OTTAWA — Canada joined the global community Monday in helping to raise $11 billion toward a COVID-19 vaccine, amid promises to avoid past pandemic practice and make it available for all.

That hasn't happened with past outbreaks, including the H1N1 pandemic in 2009, where richer countries got a vaccine first at the expense of poorer ones.

A viable vaccine must be available and affordable for all countries, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said Monday, while Charles Michel, the president of the European Council, said victory over the virus will take more than great minds in laboratories.

"It will also take a firm commitment to multilateral institutions, and it will take resources," said Michel.

The pledging conference is partially a response to the decision by U.S. President Donald Trump to pause funding to the World Health Organization because of concerns that it mismanaged the outbreak of the novel coronavirus earlier on.

"We must learn the lessons from the fight against HIV and swine flu where the narrow self-interests of corporations and governments meant vaccines and treatments were too expensive or arrived too late," Anna Marriott, head of Oxfam's health policy, said in a statement.

"President Trump remains isolated and antagonistic to an international collaboration aimed at saving lives of people across the globe. No one individual, community, or country can overcome this crisis alone — we must all work together."

Britain's envoy to Canada says the search for and eventual distribution of a new COVID-19 vaccine can't be a competitive process that deprives people in poorer countries.

"Right at the heart of that is the discovery and effective dissemination of an effective vaccine … it has to be an effort of collaboration rather than an effort of competition," Susan le Jeune d'Allegeershecque said in an interview Monday.

Britain and the European Union co-hosted Monday's virtual pledging conference to raise more than $11 billion towards finding a vaccine.

Typically, countries with the weakest health systems find themselves priced out of access to some key medicines and vaccines, said the humanitarian adviser to Doctors Without Borders.

"We have a lot of concerns that promising COVID-19 vaccine could be priced out of reach," said Jason Nickerson, also an adjunct professor in the law faculty at the University of Ottawa.

Any promising COVID-19 vaccine should be seen as a public good, rather than a financial commodity, he said.

"There’s a certain reality that in order to ensure broad access and truly global access, we can't do business in the way that it's been done for medicines and vaccines today," Nickerson said.

Britain is hosting the replenishment conference for Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, viewed as a key partner in making sure a new vaccine reaches the people who need it. The international organization, which has immunized 760 million children since 2000, is seeking more than $8 billion in new five-year replenishment at a conference in June.

In his address, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau highlighted that Canada has already promised $850 million towards the international effort to fight the spread of the pandemic.

When asked why Canada didn't offer new money today, he said the event was "only the beginning" in the effort to find, manufacture and distribute a vaccine for the novel coronavirus.

"We know that the safety of our own citizens depends on how we keep people around the world safe," Trudeau said at the conference that took place online Monday.

"We need to take care of ourselves by taking care of the rest of the world."

Trudeau also spoke with Bill and Melinda Gates last week about the need to support the event and to promote co-operation in developing and distributing a vaccine — and not just to those in wealthy countries.

Like Canada, other countries are trying to develop a vaccine formula or treatment that will allow the world to stop the pandemic and return to a state of normalcy.

But discovering a viable vaccine won't be enough to prevent future outbreaks, said the head of the World Health Organization.

"The true measure of success will not only be how fast we can develop safe and effective tools – it will be how equally we can distribute them," said Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the WHO.

"The potential for continued waves of infection of COVID-19 across the globe demands that every single person on the planet be protected from this disease."

Countries are already working together to pool research and data to help in the development of a vaccine, and work has already begun to plot out a way to manufacture a viable formula on a worldwide scale, according to Canada's health minister.  

"It is almost like a race, but a race where you want everyone to be able to cross the finish line at once," Health Minister Patty Hajdu said at a briefing Monday.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 4, 2020.

Laura Osman and Mike Blanchfield, The Canadian Press

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