The federal conservative health critic warned of the impact of Canada’s COVID-19 vaccine delays on Saturday, saying there could be huge implications to the country’s public health system because of it.
Speaking to The West Block’s Mercedes Stephenson, Conservative health critic Michelle Rempel-Garner said the federal government keeps “moving the goalposts” for their vaccine rollout amid news of further delays from vaccine manufacturers over the last several weeks.
“Well, they keep moving the goalposts, and this isn’t something that they can easily fudge because a vaccine is a tangible thing, right?” Rempel-Garner said.
“And also moving the goalposts also has implications for delivery with the provinces, so if we’re receiving a big dump of vaccines at the end of a quarter — as opposed to week by week as they had been informing the provinces — this could have, as I said, an impact on storage, on delivery,”
Her comments after this week’s shipment of Moderna’s vaccine had 50,000 doses less than the 230,000 that was promised, while only one-fifth of Pfizer-BioNTech’s shipment was received this week. Despite the setbacks, the Liberal government reassured Canadians that the country was still on track to receive all of the promised doses — a total of six million — by the end of March.
“Despite the fears being peddled by members of the opposition parties, I can reassure Canadians we are very much on track to get the six million doses or more by the end of Q1, and to have everyone who wants a vaccine vaccinated by September,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said during a House of Commons debate Wednesday.
However, Rempel-Garner said that even if Canada did receive the promised amount of vaccines by then, such a large shipment arriving all at the time — as opposed to the staggered provincial and territorial rollout of deliveries — would create logistical problems not just for storage, but also on the window between both of the doses needed to be administered of the vaccines.
In January, both BioNTech and Pfizer warned that there was no evidence that their vaccine, which needs to have a second dose administered within 21 days of the first, would continue to protect against the virus if the booster shot would be given later than what was tested in trials.
At the same time, Moderna did not comment on whether its vaccine was effective outside of its two-dose, 28-day schedule, but said that two doses given four weeks apart gave a stronger immune response than just having one injection.
A January report from the National Advisory Committee on Immunization’s (NACI) guide on COVID-19 vaccines said however that the interval between doses could be extended by up to 42 days, citing recommendations from the World Health Organization.
“So saying ‘well, we’re going to get it at some time’ doesn’t work when you translate that to the practical reality of delivery and of figuring out who’s getting the doses when,” said Rempel-Garner. “I think what’s happened here is that they took some of these manufacturers word for it. They didn’t really plan for contingencies. We were late to the table on these things and now we’re scrambling.”
Canada’s vaccine rollout has been comparatively slow in relation to the rollouts of other major countries, with the country vaccinating 2.8 out of 100 people, according to statistics publication Our World In Data. On the other hand, Israel has vaccinated 62.1, the U.K. at 16.9 and the U.S. at 11 out of 100 people.
During an interview on The West Block, Stephenson asked procurement minister Anita Anand why Canada was so behind in terms of the number of vaccines administered.
Anand defended the country’s vaccine rollout, and said that the setback was only “temporary.”
“We have to remember that the entire globe is seeking access to these vaccines and the pressure and the competition is incredibly intense as production facilities ramp up,” she said.
“Having said that, we were one of the first countries to begin inoculations and one of the first countries to sign with Pfizer and Moderna, and we are on track with the time schedule that I just laid out for you with deliveries resuming, as I said, this week and continuing on into next week.”
Anand also said that many countries already had up and running biomanufacturing facilities and were able to tap into those as opposed to Canada, who only recently announced plans for domestic production in a contract with Novavax.
Criticism over why those plans for domestic production were made a year in advance — like the U.K. has done — has been widespread however, as vaccines from the new Novavax facility are most likely expected to be churned out in the fall as the building would still have to built and certified over the spring and summer.
Both Anand and Trudeau said that the government did sign domestic production contracts with biopharmaceutical companies Medicago and Vido-Intervac over a year ago, but their vaccines have still not been greenlighted by Health Canada and it is still unclear if they would be approved in time to contribute to the federal government’s goal of offering all Canadians who want a vaccine one by September.
“I think low hanging fruit here is to say there’s a management issue. We need to restructure that very quickly. We need to have better lines of communication,” Rempel-Garner said. “I say that knowing everybody’s working hard, but we’re not getting results and we can’t just be leaving this to a hope and a prayer with so much riding on that between lives, our economy and jobs.
“So I think, you know, plan B right now needs to be acknowledging that there’s a problem. The Liberals have to say … ‘we have a problem here’ and then and then correcting course from there. That’s that’s step number one.”
— With files from the Canadian Press and Reuters