Vaccine; provided by Jacobin

As plans for distribution of COVID-19 vaccinations are beginning to be put into action, Katrina Plamondon, a researcher at UBCO, encourages the government to consider more equity-centered policies both locally and globally.

Katrina Plamondon is an assistant professor in UBCO’s School of Nursing. Plamondon’s research focuses on issues of health equity, how to advance equity action, and how higher forces, such as structural disadvantage, are at play in the healthcare system. Specifically, Plamondon works at connecting knowledge with action by supporting people to take up practices and principles that, evidence shows, can actually take us closer to advancing health equity. In addition, Plamondon has worked with the Canadian Coalition for Global Health Research and is currently co-chair of the university advisory council, which is a table of representatives from most of the universities and colleges across Canada that have a role in global health. These representatives come together at this table to discuss issues of global health, how to respond to some of the challenges emerging in the health equity field, and around articulating ethical and equity standards in this field.

Plamondon’s current work involves advocating for more equity-centered policies both in Canada and in countries located in the Global South in terms of vaccine distribution. Health equity is a topic that has always been very significant but has arguably seen more discussion due to the ensuing pandemic that has triggered debates about the order in which vaccinations should be distributed to different populations in Canada. Plamondon’s opinion about this matter is that front line workers, and health care professionals directly at risk of being exposed and transmitting COVID-19 should be among the first to be vaccinated. Specifically, healthcare workers in long-term care facilities should be among one of the first populations to be vaccinated. These workers are in direct contact with the most vulnerable population, the elderly, who share common eating spaces, require active aid from healthcare workers, and live among conditions that leave them susceptible to transmission. Their access to vaccine demonstrates why promoting equity benefits all of society.

Plamondon explains that the people working in long term care are usually underpaid, they often have poor job security, many of them are newcomers to Canada with English as a second language, often supporting family through international remittances, and are possibly living in large, multigenerational homes. Due to these conditions, these healthcare workers often work more than one job because they are not paid enough. Plamondon emphasizes that their hourly wages do not reflect adequate compensation to pay rent in BC and bring in money for basic sustenance. They also have fewer workplace policies to protect them, thus they do not have a lot of job security or sick time benefits. Therefore, there are many structural aspects that heavily impact the population providing care which is why they should be among the first to receive the vaccinations. Likewise, structural aspects also disadvantage numerous other populations in society such as migrant workers, food-plant workers, and more who work in close proximity to other people. This leaves these populations vulnerable and at a structural disadvantage that should be considered when distributing vaccinations.

Plamondon also explains that young adults, though not currently prioritized, should be considered among the first populations to receive vaccinations. This group usually is not considered first priority for vaccinations, but as Plamondon states young adults tend to be asymptomatic or have mild symptoms that can be easily overlooked and transmitted to others. “So, if we know that that population is one where COVID can actually transmit readily and therefore exposes other vulnerable groups, we should consider vaccinating that population.”

It is equally important that vaccinations be distributed equitably among the global population. As a pandemic, no one is exempt from the transmission of COVID-19 as it impacts everyone. Canada itself is a very fortunate country that has a lot to be grateful for as not every country in the world has access to resources or finances to counteract the spread of COVID-19. As Plamondon explains, the actual development of vaccinations is considered intellectual property that is protected under trade agreements internationally by the World Trade Organization (WTO). This makes it difficult for countries that do not have the resources to purchase vaccines from the big pharmaceutical companies at the prices that are available. These countries are relying on high-income countries to donate excess vaccines that their population does not need or donate money to help purchase vaccines from those pharmaceutical countries.

As well, many countries in the Global South have signed a petition to the WTO appealing to put a temporary waiver on these intellectual property rules so that vaccines can be manufactured using the resources that lower-income countries have available to them. For this reason, numerous researchers, like Plamondon, are advocating for more equity on a global scale and urge wealthier countries to help lower-income countries.

However, this may raise the question of why Canada should care about vaccine distribution globally. Plamondon states that Canada must consider its human rights obligations and their responsibility to help populations in need. Canada must stand as an advocate for human rights and must speak up for equity on a global stage and in global governance forums like the WTO. As Plamondon justifies, it is time for Canada to take equity into consideration on both a local and global scale and work for the benefit of the populations heavily impacted during these unprecedented times.