Mark Machin, head of Canada’s largest pension fund, got a Covid-19 vaccine shot in the Middle East, according to people familiar with the matter, ahead of millions of Canadians waiting on one of the Western world’s slowest rollouts.
The 54-year-old chief executive of the $379 billion Canada Pension Plan Investment Board arrived earlier this month in the United Arab Emirates with his partner and received the first dose of a vaccine developed by
according to people familiar with the matter. He has told contacts he used local connections to obtain the vaccines, some of these people said, and he has remained in the U.A.E. and is due to receive his second dose in coming weeks, they said.
Mr. Machin didn’t comment when reached by phone and email. A spokesman for CPPIB and Mr. Machin said that he had “deeply personal” reasons for traveling to the U.A.E. “I can assure you that zero influence was applied or sought to be applied” in order for him to obtain the vaccine, the spokesman said.
The CPPIB is a crown corporation, meaning it is governed independently from the federal government but is the steward of pension obligations that are government mandated. It reports to a board of directors, who are selected by Canada’s minister of finance.
A spokeswoman for Canada’s ministry of finance said that “while the CPPIB is an independent organization, this is very troubling. The federal government has been clear with Canadians that now is not the time to travel abroad. We were not made aware of this travel.”
There is no evidence Mr. Machin, a British citizen, broke any laws to secure his dose. The Canadian government has urged residents to avoid overseas travel, but hasn’t banned it. The U.A.E., meanwhile, has said it is distributing vaccines to residents, a designation that foreigners can obtain through activities like investment, buying property or starting a local company. There is no evidence Mr. Machin is a resident.
The U.A.E. has made exceptions to its residency requirements. In January, the U.A.E.-sponsored cycling team that won the 2020 Tour de France—a group of around 60 mostly non-resident cyclists and staff—received doses of a Chinese-made vaccine in Abu Dhabi.
The U.A.E., a federation of seven emirates that includes the commercial hub of Dubai, has outpaced almost every country in the world with an ambitious vaccination campaign led by its quick embrace of the Chinese-made vaccine. Since December, the shot has been readily available and free for any adult resident or citizen. The country also offers the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, which has shown in clinical trials to be more effective, but it has been more scarce. It has been reserved mostly for people over the age of 60 or with chronic health conditions in the U.A.E.
As head of CPPIB, Mr. Machin is responsible for overseeing money set aside for retirement for roughly 20 million Canadians who contribute to the country’s public pension plan. CPPIB is one of the world’s largest pension funds, with sway in foreign markets and companies globally.
The Canadian fund in March 2020 held stakes in several U.A.E. companies including Abu Dhabi Commercial Bank PJSC and Emirates Telecommunications Group Co. PJSC, according to the fund’s annual disclosures of foreign stockholdings. Last year the fund invested in the $5.4 billion stock debut of Kuaishou Technology, a Chinese video-streaming startup, alongside Abu Dhabi Investment Authority, a big U.A.E. sovereign-wealth fund.
Mr. Machin’s vaccination, which hasn’t been previously reported, comes amid furor in other parts of the world over instances in which rich or well-connected people have been able to jump the line for a vaccine. Most of the world is carefully meting out doses to prioritize the most vulnerable, or those on the front lines fighting the pandemic.
In Peru, dozens of government consultants, lobbyists, cabinet ministers and people connected to them, and the former president and his family, secretly received vaccines last year—triggering a scandal there now dubbed Vaccine Gate. Last month, Florida restricted vaccines to those who could show proof of residency. Officials there offered the shot to anyone over 65 years old but grew concerned the state was becoming a draw for vaccine tourism. Many Canadians, in particular, have been looking to charter jets for quick round trips to Florida for vaccines.
Vaccines are particularly scarce in Canada. The country’s federal government has faced criticism for its sluggish rate of vaccinations, which lags behind rates in the U.S., U.K. and most major European nations. About 4% of the Canadian population has received at least one dose, compared with 20% in the U.S., according to a University of Oxford tracker.
Amid the pandemic, travel by officials and high-profile business leaders has been closely scrutinized. Ontario’s finance minister resigned in December after an overseas vacation amid federal and provincial advisories against travel.
The advisories don’t ban travel by officials, but Ontario Premier Doug Ford has said the resignation demonstrates “our government takes seriously our obligation to hold ourselves to a higher standard.” Linda Hasenfratz, chief executive of auto parts maker Linamar Corp. resigned last month from an Ontario government task force on Covid-19 vaccine distribution after she traveled outside the country. Ms. Hasenfratz said in a statement she regretted her decision to travel.
CPPIB’s spokesman said employee travel has almost completely stopped as a result of the pandemic but some business and personal trips still occur, noting that the fund holds assets abroad.
A former Goldman Sachs Group Inc. investment banker for two decades, Mr. Machin has been the Toronto-based pension fund’s top executive since June 2016. He previously oversaw its international operations. Before his finance career, he qualified as a medical doctor in the U.K. after studying medicine at Oxford and Cambridge universities.
Corrections & Amplifications
Doug Ford is Ontario’s premier. An earlier version of this article incorrectly identified Ontario’s premier as Rob Ford. (Corrected on Feb. 25)
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