Whose Life Is Worth More?

Last year the Canadian government boasted of its hard work to protect Canadians from COVID-19. Before any vaccine had been deve;loped, it entered into agreements with several pharmaceutical companies to purchase doses if they were successful.

Deals were signed for hundreds of millions of doses to cover a population of 38 million. Details are secret, but it seems safe to assume the government overpaid. The argument is that since they didn’t know who would be first to be successfuul, they invested widely and hoped.

Now that vaccines are available from multiple companies, Canada has more doses than it needs. As was always the plan, the excess will be donated to some of the world’s poorer countries. Very altruistic of us.

On Monday the federal government announced that almost 18 million surplus doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine would be donated to middle and low income countries. I have questions about that.

I can’t get AstraZeneca vaccine. The Province of Ontario did offer it a few months ago, but it was pulled because of potentially lethal side effects. Since other vacccines were available, it didn’t seem to health authorities to be worth the risk to continue to use it. People who had a first AstraZeneca dose were offered an alternative for their second shot.

Given those concerns, why are we shipping 18 million extra doses abroad? Yes, the fatal side effects are rare, and with prompt medical treatment most deaths can be avoided. But how likely is prompt medical treatment in the countries that will be receiving this vaccine?

I would talk about the morality of this action, but morals are an antiquated idea that many, if not most, would say should not be guiding public policy. So I will ask instead, is this ethical?

Is it ethical to ask citizens of other countries to take the leftovers of a vaccine that your citizens will not accept? Is it right to dump these doses on underdeveloped health care systems that may not be equipped to help those suffering from adverse side effects?

Yes, vaccination can safe lives, but we have been repeatedly told that one death from COVID is one too many. That line was used to justify lockdowns and severe restrictions of civil liberties.

Using the same argument, should not one death from a vaccine be one too many? Or is it different when that death isn’t a Canadian one? We have a surplus of this vaccine because it isn’t as safe as we would like. Why are we giving it to others?

Maybe it makes our politicians feel good to say we are giving away our extra vaccines. But there is no sacrifice here. They are giving away something we have no use for.

Where is the altruism in that? I don’t see them offering doses of the vaccines Canadians are queuing up for this week. We are saving those for our people. That those vaccines are supposedly safer is just a happy coincidence.

Governments frequently squander money. COVID-19 has seen spending on an unprecedented scale and I am sure there has been a huge amount of waste. But, as a frugal taxpayer, I think I would rather see these 18 million doses of AstraZeneca vacccine flushed down the toilet than given to other countries. I don’t want deaths from vaccine side effects on my conscience. (And I know that there is an argument that no vaccine would be worse. I’m not sure I buy that one.)

If we really want to be altruistic, let’s give the poorer countries the good vaccines, the ones we are putting in the arms of Canadians. We’ve been boasting that we have the world’s highest vaccination rate. Surely we can treat others as we have treated ourselves?

Or is that too much to ask?


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