On Tuesday, the European Union warned it might impose controls on European-made vaccine doses. Europe, like Canada, is being shorted on deliveries from Pfizer this month as the company slows production to expand its plant in Belgium.
To make matters worse, AstraZeneca has informed Europe that production issues will also reduce deliveries of its vaccine. The shot is expected to be approved for use in Europe later this week. It is still under review in Canada.
All of Canada’s current vaccine doses — from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna — are manufactured in Europe, potentially pinching vaccine deliveries even further.
However, Trudeau remains confident there will be no impact. He said he spoke to both drugmakers in recent weeks, both of which assured him that the delivery totals and timelines will be followed through on, regardless of Europe mulling export controls.
He said things are “in good shape.”
“I spoke to the CEO of Moderna about an hour and a half ago, so the topic of the recent musings by Europe certainly came up, and it was very, very clear that Canadian contracts that have been signed, and the delivery schedule we have laid out, will be respected,” Trudeau told reporters at a news conference in Ottawa.
He said “political concerns” related to some vaccines have arisen — particularly around manufacturing the AstraZeneca candidate.
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The EU has accused AstraZeneca of failing to guarantee the delivery of coronavirus vaccines without a valid explanation. It also had expressed displeasure over vaccine delivery delays from Pfizer-BioNTech.
Canada is “for now, not involved in those European concerns,” Trudeau said.
“At this point, we don’t have sourcing of AstraZeneca coming from European manufacturers.”
Canada aims to acquire enough vaccines for all Canadians who want one by September. While the planned deliveries of Pfizer and Moderna shots will make up a significant portion of the total required to meet that goal, the target does rely, in part, on the approval of other vaccines.
That includes vaccines made by AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson.
AstraZeneca’s vaccine is mainly produced in the U.K. Europe’s initial doses are expected to come from Germany and Belgium — where the delay is currently.
While not yet approved by Health Canada, Trudeau said Canada currently does not have plans to source its 20 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine from European manufacturers.
European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen said in a tweet earlier Tuesday that the world’s largest trading bloc will establish “a vaccine export transparency mechanism.”
“Europe invested billions to help develop the world’s first COVID-19 vaccines,” von der Leyen told the World Economic Forum’s virtual event in Switzerland.
“And now, the companies must deliver. They must honour their obligations.”
The EU, which invested 2.7 billion euros in vaccine research and production for the drug companies, “means business,” she added, reflecting the heavy pressure EU nations are under to roll out vaccines.
That’s why the EU is preparing a system of strict export controls on all coronavirus vaccines produced in the bloc, raising the spectre that it could prevent the doses from going to countries outside of the EU until its own orders are fulfilled. The commission insists it is basically to monitor whether companies respect their commitments to the EU.
Canada has no ability currently to produce the approved COVID-19 vaccines but Trudeau has insisted repeatedly that Canada will get enough vaccine doses for all Canadians who want it by the end of September.
Anita Anand, the Minister of Public Services and Procurement, expressed the same confidence on Tuesday. She said that the government is “convinced the suppliers will fulfill their contractual obligations as new vaccine supply chains are introduced.”
However, “short-term, temporary disturbances” are possible, she said in French.
“But whenever a country takes measures to limit supplies that are vital to other countries, they are slowing down the global response to the pandemic,” she continued in French. “We know that the virus does not recognize borders.”
When asked whether Canada could rule out the possibility that the EU could block exports to Canada, Trudeau said such a move would be very concerning.
“We are communicating with our partners in Europe to make sure that all the contracts signed by Canada be respected,” he said in French.
— with files from The Associated Press and The Canadian Press