Leong: Third COVID-19 vaccine dose? Not till everyone gets their first

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It seemed difficult to fathom a few short months ago, but Canada now finds itself at the front of the class when it comes to COVID-19 vaccinations.

According to the latest statistics on the website Our World in Data, a little more than 70% of Canadians have received at least one dose of vaccine, while slightly under 50% of us have been fully vaccinated.

Canada’s own numbers differ slightly on the percentage of fully vaccinated individuals, with the federal government reporting 44% of the total population having received all necessary doses.

But whoever’s numbers you’re looking at, it is clear our progress puts us ahead of most of the world’s nations.

This is certainly a cause for celebration, especially given the seemingly dire situation in which we found ourselves at the beginning of the year.

At the time, a combination of federal government bungling and vaccine production issues stymied this country’s efforts to inoculate Canadians against a very contagious and potentially deadly virus.

While Canada was late to the party, we are finally there.

Our wide, rapid acceptance of COVID-19 vaccine has allowed our economies to reopen, with life in many parts of the country returning to something resembling normal.

Daily new infections and fatalities remain low for the moment.

But before we party too hard, we must remember Canada is not an isolated island.

The novel coronavirus continues to circulate, especially in places where many haven’t yet been jabbed.

A shocking number of people have yet to receive their first shot of COVID-19 vaccine, let alone their second.

Globally, some 26% of the population has received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine, while only 13% of the population are fully immunized against the novel coronavirus.

Those are averages, so it doesn’t take much to realize there are many countries with even lower rates of inoculation.

This inequity is untenable and if the world’s richest nations don’t act quickly to fix it, it will come back to bite us.

Lately, health officials worldwide have been especially concerned about coronavirus variants — mutations of the virus making it potentially more transmissible, possibly causing those infected to become more acutely ill.

“The Delta variant is ripping around the world at a scorching pace, driving a new spike in COVID-19 cases and death,” World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told media last week.

And with so many people still awaiting their first dose of vaccine, we run the risk of seeing even more COVID-19 variants, perhaps even developing mutations allowing the virus to make an end run around the protection our scientists have worked so hard to develop.

While it feels good for some countries to reach high levels of coronavirus immunity, we continue to expose ourselves to future risk if we do not help all nations join Canada and others at the front of the line.

Still, there’ve been rumblings from pharmaceutical giants about the supposed need to administer a third dose of vaccine to provide even more protection against variants.

There appears to be no medical evidence to support the need for such a booster at this time, with recent studies suggesting two doses of vaccine are enough to protect against the fast-rising Delta variant.

And given the current gap in worldwide vaccine coverage, it is morally grotesque to suggest rolling out booster shots now in places with already excellent uptake.

Said Mike Ryan, head of the WHO’s emergencies program: “We are condemning hundreds of millions of people to having no protection.”

If people start receiving third doses while others have yet to receive their first, he added, “we will look back in anger, and we will look back in shame.”

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