OTTAWA — Canada will put $790 million toward vaccinating the world’s more vulnerable populations and distributing a COVID-19 vaccine around the world, if an effective one is discovered, International Development Minister Karina Gould announced Tuesday.

The sum includes $600 million over four years to help GAVI, the Vaccine Alliance — a major international non-profit organization — provide routine immunizations to children all over the world, as well as administer a potential COVID-19 vaccine.

GAVI’s mission is to improve access to vaccines for vulnerable children, and immunize them against pneumonia, diarrhea, meningitis and other diseases.

The organization will also play a key role in ensuring less-developed countries aren’t left out of access to a vaccine to stop the pandemic spread of the novel coronavirus.

It is Canada’s biggest-ever pledge to GAVI — $100 million more than a multi-year promise in 2016.

“COVID-19 has demonstrated that viruses do not know borders,” Gould said in a statement Tuesday when she announced the commitment.

“Our health here in Canada depends on the health of everyone, everywhere.”

Gould also pledged $190 million over four years to support the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, a partnership between several international agencies, including GAVI and the World Health Organization.

The money is intended to prevent a resurgence of polio and other communicable diseases for which vaccines already exist.

ONE Canada, an advocacy group aimed at eliminating world poverty, applauded the investment.

“While countries around the world are fighting COVID-19, it’s crucial that routine immunizations continue so that we don’t have to deal with other diseases like measles spreading at the same time,” said director Stuart Hickox.

The federal government says the wild poliovirus, which mainly affects young children and can cause permanent paralysis, has been eliminated from 99.9 per cent of the world’s regions.

The WHO reported 176 cases of the wild poliovirus in 2019, and has discovered 54 cases so far this year, the vast majority of them in Pakistan.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 12, 2020.

Laura Osman, The Canadian Press