The Manitoba government has committed to buy two million doses of a made-in-Canada COVID-19 vaccine currently under clinical trial.
Premier Brian Pallister announced the purchase of the Providence Therapeutics COVID-19 vaccine at a Thursday morning press conference.
“With today’s announcement we’re taking a big step … to creating a secure, stable supply of Canadian-made COVID vaccines,” Pallister said.
A human trial for the prospective vaccine was started in Toronto in late January.
In a release Jan. 26 Providence said the vaccine, dubbed PTX-COVID19-B, is a messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccine, and is the first fully-made in Canada vaccine to reach the human clinical trial stage.
The company says subjects in the trial will be monitored for 13 months, but enough data should be gathered by April to move to a second phase of testing by May, pending regulatory approval.
With positive results, Providence Therapeutics has said it expects commercialization of the vaccine to begin by the end of 2021 or early 2022.
Pallister said the province’s agreement with Alberta-based Providence, called a term sheet, will see Manitoba receiving the first 200,000 doses of the vaccine as soon as it is approved for sale in Canada.
He said the agreement includes a “best-price guarantee” that means the province won’t pay more than any other government for the vaccine.
Pallister wouldn’t say exactly how much the province has agreed to pay, but did say the agreement will see Manitoba putting 20 per cent down, with another 40 per cent coming on approval by Health Canada and the final 40 per cent coming on delivery.
“We’ll release the details of the contract when it’s finalized,” he said.
If the vaccine is approved for sale, a government release said the drug product manufacturing and filling of vials with vaccine is planned to be done by Emergent BioSolutions, at its manufacturing facility in Winnipeg.
“Manitobans are Canadians first. We are investing not just for ourselves, but for all Canadians,” said Pallister.
“Building a secure, made-in-Canada vaccine supply will put Canadians at the head of the line to get a COVID vaccine, where we belong.”
The province says the Providence vaccine is similar to those made by Pfizer and Moderna, which have shown to be more adaptive to variants of the COVID-19 virus.
Providence’s chief executive officer said the company has been talking with other provinces as well.
“The provinces are very keen to have security of supply. They’re very keen to see this made in Canada,” Brad Sorenson said.
Sorenson has asked the federal government for a similar deal but has not received an answer.
The company wants $150 million from Ottawa to pay for the clinical trials and material costs. In exchange, Providence would offer Canada a 30 per cent discount on market prices and priority access to vaccines that may be needed for variants and booster shots.
Pallister said he wrote to the prime minister and other premiers Thursday to invite them to join the initiative. He said he didn’t expect any trouble from Ottawa for securing a provincial deal.
“Surely they wouldn’t stand in the way of provinces who have, throughout our history, been responsible for delivering health care,” Pallister said.
Manitoba’s Opposition New Democrats said they are worried the deal could fall through and pointed to problems the Progressive Conservative government has run into rolling out vaccines and testing sites.
But they support the initiative.
“We need domestic vaccine production capability here in Canada and, if this helps to accomplish that, then I think that that’s something we should welcome and support,” NDP Leader Wab Kinew said.
COVID-19 cases in Manitoba have dropped in recent weeks following a spike in the fall. Health officials reported 90 new cases and three deaths Thursday.
The demand on hospital intensive care units continues to drop as well.
For the first time since November, the number of people in intensive care beds for all health conditions this week has dropped below 100.
20,000 doses a day by April
On Wednesday, the province announced it is expanding eligibility for COVID-19 immunizers to include athletic therapists, chiropractors, dental hygienists, massage therapists, and optometrists on the list of those qualified to give the shot.
The move means 17 different professions can now administer the coronavirus vaccine.
The province said it’s ramping up in an effort to be ready to deliver up to 20,000 shots a day by April.
Delays in deliveries of both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccine have forced the province to scale back vaccination efforts for the time being.
Manitoba’s current capacity is 7,499 doses per day, the province said Wednesday.
Since January, 66,090 doses of vaccine have been delivered to Manitoba, including 43,290 doses of Pfizer vaccine, and 22,800 doses of the Moderna vaccine.
To date, 50,554 doses of vaccine have been administered in Manitoba, including 33,930 first doses and 16,624 second doses, according to provincial data.
The province said Wednesday it expects to receive 3,510 doses of Pfizer this week and another 15,210 doses next week.
—With files from Steve Lambert at The Canadian Press
Questions about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:
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To prevent the virus from spreading, experts recommend frequent handwashing and coughing into your sleeve. They also recommend minimizing contact with others, staying home as much as possible and maintaining a distance of two metres from other people if you go out. In situations where you can’t keep a safe distance from others, public health officials recommend the use of a non-medical face mask or covering to prevent spreading the respiratory droplets that can carry the virus. In some provinces and municipalities across the country, masks or face coverings are now mandatory in indoor public spaces.
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