With the House back in session, the last couple of weeks have been busy. I participated in the emergency debates that were held on the cancellation of Keystone XL, as well as on vaccine availability. Committees have also started back up which has been a great way to hold the Liberals to account, something that is clearly very important to my constituents based on the e-mails you’ve sent my office.
I hope to share with you some information on vaccines that we have learned over the past couple weeks and will continue to keep my ear to the ground for any further developments.
Has Pfizer Resumed Delivery?
It appears so, although last week we received only 79,000 doses and this week we will receive even less, at just 70,000. According to the information available, Canada is to receive 335,000 doses the week of February 15th, and 395,000 the following week. Pfizer is contractually obligated to deliver 4 million doses by the end of March – although there is some indication now that “contractually obligated” may not be quite as firm as what we thought – and that it may be more of a “best effort” clause. The government is keeping the contracts confidential.
What About Moderna?
We received news last Friday that Moderna would see a significant supply disruption starting last week. We do not know what that means in terms of dose numbers. Similarly to Pfizer, the information they have shared suggests this is to increase manufacturing capacity and the disruption will be temporary. We will get a better sense of how this will play out in early March.
Is the EU Going to Block Exports?
The EU has given “verbal assurance” to the Minister that exports to Canada will not be affected. A concern however is that Canada was not included on the published list of countries the EU said would not be blocked. Both Pfizer and Moderna supplies for Canada are manufactured in Europe. For now, it appears that distribution will not be blocked and the only disruptions will be for plant upgrades by the manufacturers.
Production in Canada
Many have asked why vaccines cannot simply be produced in Canada. We got somewhat of an answer to this question when the procurement Minister was at committee. The Minister claims all seven companies were asked to manufacture at least some of their vaccine in Canada, and all declined. We are told this is because Canadian manufacturers lacked the capacity for mass production. If government had acted sooner in providing financial assistance for these manufacturers to expand production capabilities the situation might be different today.
Calgary Vaccine Maker Providence
We asked the government repeatedly – click here to read the transcript – why we poured millions into a vaccine facility in Montreal in which construction is behind schedule, and into the failed CanSino Chinese initiative. We then asked about the Calgary vaccine maker Providence which received no government assistance despite their proposals to government. These questions remain unanswered.
What About AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson, and Other Vaccines?
AstraZeneca remains under review by Health Canada despite being approved in other countries like the UK. We have been told that approval could come “within days”. The PM said, in one of his briefings from a tent outside of Rideau Cottage, that when approved, AstraZeneca would deliver 20 million doses before June. This turned out to be inaccurate as the delivery schedule will only be released after approval by Health Canada. Johnson & Johnson is farther behind the regulatory review process as its vaccine was submitted after AstraZeneca. The remaining three vaccines Canada has purchased are still in early clinical trials.
The federal government came under criticism recently for its decision to accept vaccines from a program aimed primarily at helping developing countries. About 190 countries have signed on to COVAX, an initiative of the World Health Organization, which is intended to ensure that high-risk groups in every country are immunized. Canada has invested about $345 million in COVAX. Half of that money is being used to secure doses for domestic use and half of it to support developing nations. Canada is the only Group of Seven country utilizing doses from COVAX. It is another indication the government is concerned about meeting its self-imposed timelines.
How Did We Get Here?
There seems to be a relatively universal belief across analysts, media, and the opposition, that the vaccine acquisition program is not running smoothly. The Prime Minister’s assurance that “everyone who wants a vaccine will have one by September” is becoming increasingly difficult to believe given the current logistical challenges. Much ink has been spilt these past few weeks on how we got to the position we are now in – here is my sense:
• Initially the government put a great deal of faith in a deal with CanSino – the Chinese pharmaceutical company. The opposition questioned the reliability of China as a partner in this venture and, as the government should probably have foreseen, China blocked exports of the vaccine to Canada.
• The government’s faith in China resulted in us being behind in approaching other suppliers like Moderna and Pfizer for their vaccines. The UK, in contrast, was one of the first to ink a deal
and now has 10 million people vaccinated with at least 1 dose (Canada has done about one tenth of that). Israel, also one of the first to sign deals, has over 50% of its citizens vaccinated.
• The government then declined multiple offers from Canada’s private sector to develop and manufacture the vaccine. Instead, they poured more than $100 million into a new vaccine facility in Montreal that won’t be online until 2022. Not only did they ignore Calgary-based Providence, they also ignored Montreal-based PnuVax which has a Health Canada approved vaccine manufacturing facility literally right down the street from the construction of the new one.
One can only hope the two drugs now at Health Canada are approved soon and can deliver quickly, and that the supply disruptions from Pfizer and Moderna are truly temporary. Additionally, the three other companies currently conducting clinical trials hopefully will be submitting their vaccines to Health Canada for approval soon.
We should have a better sense of if we will meet the scattered timelines and see the aggressive ramp up of vaccination deliveries we have been promised, within the next couple weeks. If that does indeed happen, the next challenge will be on the province to actually administer the massive influx of vaccines. Unfortunately, backloading in a large number of doses could cause challenges for provincial distribution lines that have not been tested with this kind of capacity. With that said, Saskatchewan appears well positioned to administer shipments quickly.
As always, I look forward to your comments.
Dr. Robert Kitchen, MP, Souris – Moose Mountain