Thank you very much.
I have to say thank you to Mr. Long, Mr. Lamoureux, Madame Vignola and Mr. Barrett for appearing with us today at the health committee. There's finance committee and there's ethics committee, but I'm sure you'll all agree you've made a big [Technical difficulty—Editor] to health committee.
Welcome to all of you.
Let me also say thank you to all the analysts and to the translators, although I'm pretty sure there isn't a place you'd rather be on a Friday afternoon than right here with the health committee. Thank you all.
Let me get to the actual matter at hand and the importance of not doing anything to potentially jeopardize our access to the vaccines. Why is that? We're doing pretty well with respect to vaccines. I know that when the Prime Minister has said that everyone who wants a vaccine will have a vaccine by the end of September, he's basing that solely on contracts from Moderna and Pfizer. There are three other vaccines out there that seem to be effective. Two of them have already gone through the phase three trials. With the other one, Novavax, preliminary results have shown that it's effective. Yes, it has to go through the regulatory approval process and we're not sure how long that's going to take, but from talking to my medical colleagues, it seems likely that most, if not all, of these vaccines are going to be approved. All the data that approval is based on is out there, so we know what that data has shown. The results and the concerns, such as with AstraZeneca, have been much talked about in the medical community, but we think they're going to be approved.
When those other vaccines are approved, we will have millions and millions of doses of those in addition to Pfizer and Moderna, so I think in the quite near future we will have a lot of vaccines. The problem in the spring and early summer is going to be getting those vaccines into arms. That's going to be a provincial responsibility, but I have faith in the provinces and in the medical system. Heck, I might be out there myself, giving some injections. It seems to me that it would be a good use of my time—maybe even better than being here in health committee.
I want to address the things that Mr. Davies brought up, because he brought up some very real questions. He talked about the fact that many of the vaccine manufacturers have used public funds in developing those vaccines, yet then they have patent rights over those vaccines. It's a very legitimate question that we all ought to be asking right now, and certainly I ask this question: Is it in the collective interest of all the people in the world that the global supply of vaccines be reliant on the free market and the goodwill and business interests—the financial interests—of the pharmaceutical industry to solve the crisis for all of us? Does the free market lead to the optimal outcome in terms of health care, but also in terms of the economy and getting the economy going again?
It is potentially a great failure of global governance that in the end we've left the management of the pandemic to free enterprise and the interests of the pharmaceutical companies. There is probably a better way of doing this. I say it's a failure of global governance, not Canadian governance, because this is a global problem and the only solution has to be a global solution. That'll probably be in terms of a treaty, so that the next time this happens, we're not reliant on market mechanisms and the free market to handle our collective problems.
That's something that's going to be in the future. Right now, we're stuck with the system that currently exists, which is the free enterprise system—the market system. To have that market system work, we're dependent on contracts and contract law. We're dependent on a market where, if the seller has better opportunities with another buyer, perhaps they'll avail themselves of those opportunities. In the system we find ourselves, in the game in which we find ourselves playing, I think it's very prudent to not do anything that could potentially jeopardize our vaccine supply. That is what we're arguing about here.
Sometimes we have to come back to that: What are we arguing about here? It's that we do not want—or do not believe it is in our collective interest—to require the vaccine producers to bring their contracts before us at this committee.
As for the global response, I share Mr. Davies' interest in the possibility of using compulsory licensing. Compulsory licensing is allowed under international trade law and under the WTO TRIPS agreement on trade-related aspects of intellectual property. Compulsory licensing allows a government, after negotiating with the patent holder, and should they fail to reach agreement with the patent holder, to award a compulsory licence to produce a medication to another enterprise to produce it. This is recognized, as I say, under the WTO, as part of what's known as the TRIPS flexibilities.
This was very much an issue that came to light in the academic literature because of the problem of access to antiretrovirals in Africa during the 2000s. A lot of antiretrovirals were still under patent and, therefore, were at a price range where basically nobody in Africa could afford them. A lot of the African countries and the developing world knew of the TRIPS flexibilities; however, they felt uncertain as to whether a WTO panel really would allow a poor country to use a patent in order to produce medications under the provisions of the TRIPS agreement. In fact, the WTO, in the Doha declaration, stated that, yes, those flexibilities and compulsory licensing could be used for basically what we have here, which is a public health emergency.
I know that our country in fact has quite a long history of using compulsory licensing. At one time, we were, I believe, the leaders globally in terms of using compulsory licensing to produce medications. I believe that under the Prime Minister's father, Pierre Trudeau, we in fact engaged quite frequently in compulsory licensing. Certainly Canada did not oppose, and in fact stood on the side of, four African nations in their attempts to use compulsory licensing as a way of allowing access to life-saving medications in Africa. In fact, it was under the Jean Chrétien government that we enacted the Jean Chrétien Pledge to Africa act, which allowed Canadian companies to use compulsory licensing to manufacture in Canada drugs for export to developing countries.
In addition, I would point out that early on, under COVID—this summer, in fact—we enacted legislation allowing the Government of Canada to use compulsory licensing with respect to products related to COVID, so Canada has quite a long history of involvement with compulsory licensing. In fact, that is potentially one solution to the problem, but on this question, when it has come up in international quarters in terms of our response to the pandemic, I know the concern has been that compulsory licensing is too slow a process and developing countries wouldn't be able to use compulsory licensing fast enough in order to address the problem.
As a result of that, India and South Africa, as Mr. Davies is aware, went to the WTO a number of months ago looking for a waiver from the WTO, which would basically allow countries that are poor or developing countries to bypass international or intellectual property rights and allow those countries—or companies in those countries—to produce the vaccine. They've gone before WTO asking for the waiver. It's been postponed several times now. Mr. Davies has said that Canada opposes this waiver before WTO.
Don, I don't know if you're listening, but I got this from the department of international trade. I know the media has said and it's been publicized that Canada opposes the waiver. I just got this from international trade because I asked them what I could say on this.
The official response is that Canada does not oppose the TRIPS waiver. It says that Canada has reached out to proponents of the waiver and all WTO members to better understand their concerns. We appreciated the January 15 responses to our questions from co-sponsors of the waiver proposal. We will continue to discuss these responses at TRIPS council, most recently at the February 4 informal meeting, and we look forward to further engagement at the upcoming February 23 meeting. We don't oppose it. TRIPS governs intellectual property matters, but currently vaccine accessibility issues centre on distribution supply chain concerns.
My understanding of the Canadian position is that the free market and, by voluntary licensing, other countries and companies in those countries will hopefully be able to make agreements with vaccine producers in order to ramp up production, which is collectively in all of our interests. Certainly compulsory licensing is allowed under international trade law. I think if you look at our history, Canada has either engaged in compulsory licensing or approved of compulsory licensing in the past. For developing countries, there could be, one, a voluntary licensing agreement with the actual producers, and, two, compulsory licensing. My understanding is that if this isn't working, Canada does not in fact oppose the waiver or, at least at the moment, hasn't taken the position of opposing the waiver.
I think that's very interesting and I have to say I think Canada has taken a very ethical position and a position that I think is collectively in all of our interests. I certainly agree with Mr. Davies on a couple of points with respect to the global pandemic and having a global approach. One is that, as long as the disease is out there in other countries, it can mutate and come back and haunt us for years to come. Really it is in our best interests to find a global solution.
The second thing is in terms of the economy. I think it was ILO, the International Labour Organization, earlier on in the pandemic that was predicting that 500 million more people globally would be pushed into poverty as a result of the pandemic, and the World Bank estimated that something like 20 million to 40 million people would be pushed into extreme poverty. Various economic think groups have come to the conclusion that it will collectively cost the economies in the developed world billions and billions of dollars if we don't address the pandemic in developing countries, for a couple of reasons.
One is that the supply chains for our companies start in those countries, and another is that, even though developing countries may not spend as much per capita as the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom do, markets in those countries are sizable and the pandemic is affecting those markets. For all of those reasons, I fully agree with Mr. Davies that there has to be a global approach to this problem. There has to be a global solution. I salute our government's approach in terms of the international response.
Let me throw in before closing that, with respect to the international response, Canada really has taken a leading role. We've provided $1.6 billion for the global COVID response, including $220 million to COVAX for the purchase of vaccines. I think we have done, actually, a fairly admirable job with a problem that doesn't affect just us in Canada. It's a global problem that I think really calls out for global solutions.
Frankly, I don't think there is an international law or adequate mechanisms for dealing with this kind of problem. I would encourage our opposition and the New Democratic Party to consider the possibility of something like a treaty and how we could globally make a response to this that would collectively be in our best interests so that, next time around, we don't have the same kind of problem.
Thank you for your time.