The parliamentary secretary to Procurement Minister Anita Anand says the federal government has taken the “second best” COVID-19 vaccine procurement approach, given Canada is lacking domestic capacity.
In an interview on CTV News Channel’s Power Play, Quebec Liberal MP Steven MacKinnon said that Canada spending more than $1 billion on vaccine procurement agreements to lock in up to 429 million doses from seven vaccine manufacturers was the next best thing that the federal government could do.
“What Canada did is choose the second best option, which is to buy from those pharmaceutical companies from the manufacturing locations that could supply us the quickest,” MacKinnon said.
After getting off the ground in December, Canada’s vaccine campaign stalled out somewhat in January due to delivery shortages as a result of reliance on other countries. Amid reduced shipments Canada has fallen behind several countries, and the federal Liberals have faced continued grilling from the opposition parties over their procurement approach and lacking domestic capacity.
Pointing to other countries that have been able to build their own domestic manufacturing capacity and lock in deals to produce leading vaccines in their own countries, Anand told MPs earlier on Thursday that option was not available to Canada.
During testimony before a House of Commons committee digging into Canada’s vaccine capacity, Anand said that her department “proactively and repeatedly approached leading vaccine manufacturers” about setting up production in Canada, however all of them turned the offer down, saying capacity here was “too limited to justify the investment.”
Speaking about this MacKinnon doubled down, saying Canada’s approach was “because the first best plan was not available to us,” while subsequently investing in Canadian biomanufacturers in the long-run.
In an effort to bolster future domestic production, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced earlier this week the federal government had signed a “memorandum of understanding” with U.S.-based Novavax to pursue options to produce its COVID-19 vaccine at a new Montreal facility. However, that site is still under construction and vaccine production there isn’t expected to be able to start until this fall at the earliest.
There are other Canadian facilities working to scale up as well, but they aren’t expected to be ready to be making doses until next year at least, meaning they aren’t set to play a role in the current and pressing pandemic vaccination campaign.
“Of course Canada wants to be in on biomanufacturing… that was our original motivation and of course we continue to follow through on that,” MacKinnon said. “As we go through this year, believe me, we will be vaccinating Canadians at an incredible clip,” MacKinnon said.
Facing the current shortage and the reality that domestic capability won’t be there until late 2021, this week Canada opted to dip in to the supplies from global vaccine-sharing effort known as COVAX, meaning Canada’s set to receive a minimum of 1.9 million and up to 3.2 million doses of the yet-to-be-approved-here AstraZeneca vaccine before the end of June.
The move was met with criticism from some, suggesting that a G7 country should not be seeking access to a vaccine resource that’s aimed at pooling procurements to provide doses to lower-income nations.
However, the federal government has stood by the move, stating that it’s Canada’s right as the program is designed, to access doses and noting it’s one of the leading donors to the program.
Canada has spent $440 million towards the COVAX initiative, half of which was intended for Canada to be able to secure up to 15 million doses for use in this country, and the other $220 million to go towards lower income nations’ purchases of vaccines.
“COVAX is working exactly as we laid out… And is going to provide vaccines for people all over the world because we know that until everyone is safe from this pandemic, no one is truly safe,” said MacKinnon.