Canada, which has reserved enough doses to vaccinate residents against Covid-19 several times over, is in talks with other governments about a plan to donate shots to lower-income countries, according to three sources familiar with the matter.
Canada has made deals to buy more doses per capita than any other nation, according to researchers at the Duke Global Health Innovation Center in North Carolina.
It is among a handful of wealthy nations that reserved billions of doses between them before late-stage trial data came in, ensuring they would get access even if only one or two vaccines worked.
Canada could donate extra doses through the World Health Organization-backed COVAX facility, which would distribute them among recipient countries, said a Canadian government source.
Separately, a COVAX source confirmed discussions were going on between Canada and other governments and organizations involved with COVAX, a facility created to ensure equitable access to Covid-19 vaccines.
"We are not going to allow those doses to go to waste," said a third source.
Sources declined to be identified as the discussions are confidential.
Asked about the issue in a parliamentary committee meeting on Monday, Deputy Procurement Minister Bill Matthews said Canada "would have options" if all seven suppliers had their vaccines approved but that it was "too early" for a plan.
It is not yet clear whether any country will receive more vaccine doses than it can use. Only Pfizer Inc and Moderna Inc have released late-stage trial data, and Canada has deals in place to buy at least 20 million doses from each of the two companies.
But while different vaccines work in different ways, nearly all target the same part of the coronavirus, and some experts see strong early data as an indication that other vaccines may also work.
Demand seen exceeding supply
Canada's discussions follow a tack set by the European Union, which has told member states they can donate extra doses to low- and middle-income countries.
The approach could undermine efforts to ensure vaccines are distributed fairly around the world. COVAX, led by the GAVI vaccine group, was created to buy vaccines and share them among countries, not to distribute donated leftovers.
Its aim is to make 2 billion Covid vaccine doses available by the end of 2021, and it has raised more than $2 billion in funding, but needs $5 billion more to meet its goal.
If rich countries do not close that funding gap, and then wait until most of their own residents are vaccinated before sharing doses, millions of frontline workers and vulnerable people in poorer countries could face a long wait for vaccination.
Demand for a vaccine is expected to exceed supply into 2022 and beyond. A recent vaccine modeling report from the Center for Global Development estimated that there would not be enough doses to vaccinate everyone until 2023.
Canada, with a population of about 38 million, has ordered up to 414 million vaccine doses through seven purchase agreements. In the unlikely event all seven are approved, that would be enough to vaccinate the country more than five times over. It is expected most of the early vaccines will require two doses.