“Canada is looking at all the different candidates that are at different stages of development,” Gould said in an interview when asked if the government plans to pre-order doses for Canadians.
She also stressed the importance of pursuing a broad global strategy to make the possible vaccine also accessible to the poorest countries.
But, for some, the Trudeau government is moving far too slowly to join an intensifying global race that has already generated billions of dollars in vaccine commitments.
The international scene: The United States, for example, has signed agreements for a total of around 1 billion doses. They include a $ 1.95 billion deal announced last week with Pfizer Inc. and BioNTech for up to 600 million doses.
The UK, Germany, France, and Italy are some of the other wealthy countries getting doses.
The Ottawa Approach: Canada’s chief public health officer, Theresa Tam, says Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Office is relying on the input of a vaccine “task force” of independent experts. Tam said the group meets two or three times a week to review candidate vaccines, examine international opportunities and consider domestic manufacturing possibilities.
“There are very active discussions with any promising candidate to try to get buy deals in advance, and those kinds of approaches,” Tam told reporters this week. “Discussions are currently underway with a variety of manufacturers.”
Political pressure to go faster: Matt Jeneroux, a Conservative MP, said in an interview that the international battle for personal protective equipment at the start of the pandemic has proven that a “hope for the best” strategy is not the best approach.
“It will be a fierce battle for these vaccines,” said Jeneroux, his party’s parliamentary health spokesperson. “And Canada doesn’t even seem to have a seat at the table.”
He added that he was “extremely concerned” because countries like the United States, United Kingdom, Germany, France and China are well ahead of Canada in moving closer to the country. ‘a potential vaccine.
A difficult choice: Robert Van Exan, a cell biologist with 40 years of vaccine experience in Canada, said there were so many unknowns given that there are around 200 Covid-19 candidates under development in many different countries.
He said that out of 15 candidates under development in Canada, only three likely have a chance of success.
Only one of the companies working on a candidate in Canada, CanSino Biologics Inc., has made a vaccine in the past, Van Exan said. None of the other companies developing candidates in Canada has ever produced a human vaccine for commercial purposes, he added.
Another big challenge for governments is not knowing how effective any vaccines will be, Van Exan noted in an interview. He said some vaccines might be more effective for older people, while other candidates might work better on younger people.
“It’s really hard to pick winners at this point,” said Van Exan, who acted as an expert advisor on Covid-19 for the Center for Global Development. “So, even though there’s a reason to say we should line something up, what are you going to line up?”
Vaccine nationalism: Asked about signs of vaccine nationalism around the world, Gould said it was a concern.
“Of course,” she said, “vaccinating just one country is not an effective solution and, in fact, it could prolong the duration of the pandemic.”
Two-pronged approach: Gould said countries can help make a future vaccine more accessible to poorer countries while also focusing on their national needs. She highlighted the international effort under the World Health Organization’s Covid-19 Tool Access Accelerator (ACT), to which Canada has contributed CAN $ 120 million.
“There is this tension, obviously, when it comes to some of the wealthier countries that are making efforts to get vaccines for their people,” Gould said. “But they’re also participating in this global installation, which I find really new.”
She added that the global platform is “by no means perfect” and it’s unclear how it will work. But she argued that this was a significant improvement given that there was no previous mechanism to secure global supplies to the poorest countries.
Canada, she added, is part of another international approach called the COVAX Facility. It undertakes to provide all countries which have signed it with doses for 20% of their population. She said the strategy is likely to prioritize the provision of vaccines to frontline health workers and the most vulnerable, such as the elderly and people with respiratory problems.