Calls continue for Canada to lift travel restrictions placed on several African countries in response to the Omicron variant and make efforts to improve vaccine equity around the world.
Akwatu Khenti, chair of the Black Scientists’ Task Force on Vaccine Equity, expressed his concerns with the federal government’s policy during an interview with CTV’s Your Morning on Friday.
Foreign nationals who have been to Botswana, Egypt, Eswatini, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Nigeria, South Africa and Zimbabwe 14 days prior are currently not permitted entry into Canada.
Khenti says, while he understood the initial rationale to essentially protect the Canadian population at all costs, Omicron has now spread around the world to multiple continents and dozens of countries — including Canada.
“It’s no longer needed if it ever was,” he said. “Canada should remove the travel ban as soon as possible.”
Khenti, an assistant professor with the Dalla Lana School of Public Health, says he would rather see a coordinated approach that leads to meaningful vaccine equity and makes addressing low vaccination rates in lower-income countries a priority.
Low vaccinations create an “incubator for mutations,” he said.
“And this policy, that’s the ultimate consequence, which is a racial consequence by the way.”
Canada has promised to donate, through financial support or direct doses, the equivalent of at least 200 million doses to COVAX, the World Health Organization’s vaccine donation program for lower-income countries.
As of Dec. 5, around 9.1 million doses had been shipped.
Khenti says, along with fulfilling its promise to deliver doses, Canada also needs to support the waiver of intellectual property for COVID-19 vaccines and help address vaccine hesitancy.
“It’s not just about supply, it’s also about access and that access it’s technology, the access is comfort, the access is communication, and we can do it.”
He says the world’s expertise and resources were marshalled to develop a scientific miracle.
“We need an equity miracle and I believe it’s entirely possible.”
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