Canadians will receive COVID-19 vaccines later than people in other countries due to a lack of domestic vaccine manufacturing capacity, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Tuesday.
Canada is “at a disadvantage” because unlike countries like Germany, Britain and the United States, Canada cannot manufacture vaccines at home, Trudeau said at a press conference in Ottawa. Its concession comes as pressure on the federal government intensifies to explain when and how Canada will be able to deploy vaccines to Canadians and after the federal government said in August that Canada would be able to manufacture 250 000 doses of vaccines by November.
Britain, the United States and Germany have all said their citizens could start receiving COVID-19 injections as early as next month and Spain has announced plans to start its vaccination campaign in January. Trudeau would not say when Canadians can expect the return to normalcy that would come with a vaccine rollout.
Countries that have national pharmaceutical facilities “are obviously going to prioritize helping their citizens,” Trudeau said. “But soon after, they will begin to honor and fulfill the contracts they have signed with other countries, including Canada.
Among the people asking for more information, there is the Premier of Quebec, François Legault, who said he was “very impatient to know the date on which we can start vaccinating”.
The federal government has made deals to purchase seven vaccines, which are still in development. They include those from Moderna Inc., Pfizer Inc. and AstraZeneca PLC, all of which have shown successful preliminary test results. Last week at a meeting of the House of Commons health committee, senior officials told MPs that unlike other countries, Canada has not entered into a licensing agreement to manufacture the vaccines in the country.
Mr. Trudeau said Canada had “no national vaccine production capacity.”
Amir Attaran, a professor at the University of Ottawa in the School of Public Health and the Faculty of Law, said the Prime Minister’s comments are “beyond absurdity” and that although Canada does not lacks the capacity to mass produce a vaccine, it could do enough for vulnerable populations and health workers.
“We will end up being months later to get the vaccine to Canada largely because the federal government has failed to do the obvious, to deliver it like other countries have done,” he said. said Professor Attaran, an immunologist by training. He pointed out that while the AstraZeneca vaccine has yet to be approved, India and Australia are already producing it so that they have stocks in place for when it is approved.
The different vaccines under development require different technology to be produced, and while Canada does not have the equipment necessary for all possible vaccines, it does have the technology to make the vaccine offered by AstraZeneca, the professor Attaran. This vaccine, developed in partnership with the University of Oxford, is also one of the least complicated to deploy, as unlike other vaccines, this vaccine can be stored and transported at normal refrigerator temperatures.
Over the summer, the Prime Minister traveled to Montreal to announce $ 126 million for a new bioproduction facility at the Center for Therapeutic Research in Human Health. While this facility is under construction, the government said at the time that its spending of $ 44 million to modernize the current facility would allow it to manufacture 250,000 doses of vaccine per month by November.
On Tuesday, the government said it did not have an update on whether the facility reached that threshold this month. However, the government has confirmed that the facility will have the technology to manufacture AstraZeneca’s vaccine.
Trudeau told reporters his government has tried to offset Canada’s manufacturing deficit by making deals with a “record” number of vaccine producers, so the country now has “one of the best portfolios. of vaccines from all countries of the world ”.
“We plan to start receiving these doses in the first months of 2021,” he said, adding that he was “confident” countries will not prevent the export of vaccines.
Prime Minister’s admission that Canadians will get the vaccine after people in other countries come under fire from opposition parties, who have been pressuring the federal government for answers on its vaccination schedule for months .
Conservative MP Michelle Rempel Garner said the Liberals need to “be honest” and give Canadians a deadline. And as other countries have made deals to manufacture vaccines and Canada has said it will have manufacturing capacity by November, NDP MP Don Davies said, “The first Minister cannot stand back and act as if it were a circumstance made with him.
In a statement, John Power, spokesperson for Innovation Minister Navdeep Bains, said the National Research Council is “actively engaging with partners” to secure a vaccine manufacturing agreement for the new facility that will be operational next year and the current one.
As the federal government plans the next phase of the pandemic, provinces are trying to increase testing capacity, which is critical to controlling the spread of COVID-19 in the meantime. On Tuesday, Ontario Premier Doug Ford said his government was rolling out 1.3 million long-awaited COVID-19 rapid tests to remote areas and virus hotspots as it faced opposition accusations that he had dragged his feet.
Tests can produce a result in as little as 20 minutes, but are considered less reliable than standard tests. The provincial NDP said the federal government shipped nearly 100,000 tests to Ontario over a month ago. Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott said the tests need to be assessed and assigned, but are now being rolled out as quickly as possible to select hospitals, long-term care homes and workplaces.
It was also not clear how many tests Ontario actually did. Federal Supply Minister Anita Anand said on Tuesday that Ottawa had sent two million tests to Ontario. But the province disputed that, saying it had so far only received 1.3 million tests.
With reports from Campbell Clark and Laura Stone
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