Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was unable to provide more details on how a coronavirus vaccine will be rolled out across the country early next year during a call with Canada’s premiers Thursday, sources told Global News.
According to several people in various premiers’ offices, Trudeau was reluctant to provide details when asked about federal contracts with vaccine makers, including shipments and delivery commitments for initial doses of a vaccine.
Trudeau also didn’t provide a clear answer when premiers asked who will be paying for vaccine doses and their distribution, according to the sources, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss details of a private call.
The call was attended by all premiers except British Columbia’s John Horgan, who was busy swearing in his new cabinet after last month’s provincial election.
Trudeau tweeted Thursday night that he had spoken with the premiers about “our planned rollout” of vaccines and other topics, but did not provide further details on the call.
“First Ministers … agreed on the importance of working together to ensure Canadians have timely and broad access to vaccines once they are available,” a statement issued by Trudeau’s office after the meeting said. “The Prime Minister highlighted that Canada is in a good position to fight the virus and protect Canadians thanks to its agreements with seven vaccine companies, and has secured access to the highest number of doses per capita of any country. ”
Frustration has been building among some provinces about the lack of clarity from Ottawa on when and how a vaccine will be distributed, particularly as cases spike to levels not seen during the earlier stages of the pandemic.
Trudeau further fanned the flames when he admitted earlier this week that Canada will likely have to wait in line behind countries currently manufacturing top vaccine candidates — namely, the United States and United Kingdom — as Canada does not have a domestic pharmaceutical manufacturing industry.
Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott on Thursday called the prime minister’s comments “very concerning,” and expressed doubt that her earlier promises of a vaccine rollout in early 2021 will be met in that province.
“Our understanding was that this had been finalized by the federal government,” she said. “Now it appears maybe it is not.
“It’s really incumbent on the prime minister to stand up for Canada, and make sure that we get our share of the vaccines during the timeframes that they originally stated.”
Health Canada’s chief medical adviser said Thursday that the first vaccine could be approved for use in Canada within two weeks. The department’s medicine review team is currently reviewing three COVID-19 vaccines: one from Pfizer and BioNtech, a second from Moderna and a third from AstraZeneca.
Canada has advanced purchase agreements with seven vaccine manufacturers, and the assistant deputy minister at Public Services and Procurement Canada said Thursday five of those agreements are now final, including the one with Pfizer.
Provincial governments have been told to expect six million vaccine doses in the first quarter of 2021, which will be distributed on a per capita basis. Two-thirds of those doses are expected to come from Pfizer, while the rest will likely be supplied by Moderna.
That batch will be enough to inoculate three million people, as the vaccine candidates unveiled so far require two doses.
Based on population, Ontario will likely receive enough vaccine doses for 1.16 million people in early 2021, while Quebec could inoculate over 670,000 by April if delivery estimates hold up.
British Columbia and Alberta’s first group of vaccine recipients will likely number around 400,000 in each province, with Manitoba and Saskatchewan each receiving enough vaccine doses for roughly 100,000 people.
The Atlantic provinces will average between 12,600 and 77,300 pairs of doses, based on population, while each of the northern territories would see around 3,000 people get vaccinated at first.
The initial rollout will focus on three core groups: those at the highest risk of contracting COVID-19, those at high risk of transmitting it to vulnerable people and essential workers.
Deputy chief public health officer Dr. Howard Njoo also said Thursday that Canada is in a good position to provide coronavirus vaccine access to “every Canadian who wants one” in 2021, but many will have to wait while initial supplies roll out.
Quebec Premier Francois Legault on Thursday explained why its was important for the provinces and territories to not only have clear answers on how many doses they will receive overall, but also the pace they will be delivered at.
“According to the number of doses we get per week, we will need more or fewer employees in order to execute this campaign and to give the vaccinations,” he told reporters.
“So we do need that information, and I know that I’m not the only premier but all the premiers in the provinces are impatiently waiting for information from the federal government.”
Conservative health critic Michelle Rempel was irate Thursday that the government isn’t fully ready to lay out a vaccine strategy. She said if more people die in Canada because we don’t properly roll out the vaccine, it would be on the conscience of Health Minister Patty Hajdu.
“I ask again, I beg the minister: when is she going to tell Canadians when they are going to produce a vaccine and give it to Canadians?” Rempel said in question period.
Hajdu said Ottawa is working “day and night” to protect Canadians.
“The vaccines, indeed, are a light at the end of the tunnel, and we are working across government to make sure that we have access to the vaccines so we can deploy them,” she said.
— With files from Global’s Amanda Connolly and the Canadian Press