The Canadian government has signed new deals with pharmaceutical firms Pfizer and Moderna to secure millions of doses in 2021 of the coronavirus vaccine candidates each company is currently developing.
Procurement Minister Anita Anand made the announcement on Wednesday morning after Pfizer tweeted news of its deal — which is a joint partnership with German biotech firm Biontech — shortly before markets opened earlier that day.
“We are increasingly focused on the next stage of our recovery, including preparing Canada for mass vaccinations,” said Anand in a press conference, stressing the need to diversify supply chains.
“Today we are taking an important step forward.”
Pfizer is currently working on four experimental coronavirus vaccines and Moderna is also working on what’s been described as among the leading candidates for a vaccine.
Pfizer also last month inked a deal with the U.S. government to supply the first 100 million doses of the vaccine it is developing in December.
Anand said the agreements will be for “millions of doses” but didn’t specify an exact amount, adding that the goal is to make sure “Canadians are at the front of the line when a vaccine becomes available.”
Any vaccine would still need to be approved by Health Canada before being rolled out.
“The contracts reflect the requirement for Health Canada approval, and in particular, once that has occurred, we are expecting deliveries, if all goes well, in 2021,” Anand said.
She was pressed several times on why she would not give the amount of vaccine being ordered.
Anand said the government is taking an approach that includes both firm orders and also options on purchasing more from suppliers, but said she will wait to share details on doses ordered while negotiations with other suppliers are ongoing.
“We are very, very intensely negotiating multiple agreements with multiple suppliers,” she said.
“The information on doses will come.”
News of the vaccine supply deals comes after Canada’s top doctors on Tuesday cautioned that the restrictions in place to prevent the spread of the virus could need to remain for two or three years, even if a vaccine is found, because it will not be what Dr. Theresa Tam called a “silver bullet.”
“We’re going to have to manage this pandemic certainly over the next year, but certainly it may be planning for the longer term on the next two to three years during which the vaccine may play a role,” Tam told reporters.
Howard Njoo, deputy chief public health officer, offered similar words of caution.
“People might think that if we get a vaccine then everything goes back to normal the way it was before. That’s not the case,” he said.
“All of the measures we’ve put in place now will still have to continue with the new reality for quite some time.”
Anand said what the top doctors explained was true.
“There is not one solution to carry Canadians and the Canadian economy out of the pandemic. Multiple efforts on multiple fronts must be made and followed, and so in terms of the vaccination, that would likely not be mandatory as Dr. Tam has mentioned,” Anand said.
“It is an added protection that will hopefully be available to Canadians who are taking monumental efforts now to wear PPE (personal protective equipment), to stay at home, to social distance.”
“We all want a silver bullet but unfortunately, that’s not the case.”
Tania Watts, a professor of immunology at the University of Toronto, said although the virus won’t be eliminated any time soon, news that the government is working to secure early supplies is welcome.
“It’s really important to secure vaccines now so that Canadians are assured of that early access,” she said.
“Obviously, there’s going to be a huge demand but I’m reassured that Canada is negotiating to get some vaccines and that could at least get even some coverage for the most vulnerable.“
Innovation and Economic Development Minister Navdeep Bains added at the press conference that the government will also be injecting more funding into both vaccine research as well as research into treatments in the form of a new task force.
“Until we can immunize all Canadians, we must also focus on treatments for those who contract the virus,” said Bains, adding no decision has been made on whether any vaccine would be mandatory.
Bains was asked whether the government is working on a plan for who will get the vaccine first if one does become available.
He said those decisions will be made in consultation with provincial and public health leaders.
“It’s still early stages. Much of the work is in clinical stages so it’s important we manage expectations,” he said. “This vaccine will not be developed overnight.”
Anand said it’s likely vulnerable populations would be at the top of that list.
With files from Global’s Mike Le Couteur.