Alberta Premier Jason Kenney is hoping other provincial leaders will join forces to establish an inter-provincial vaccine taskforce to see domestic COVID-19 vaccines become a steady source of immunizations for Canadians.
Canada has approved two vaccines from American pharmaceutical companies so far: one from Pfizer-BioNTech and another from Moderna. Three other vaccines are under review; the federal government has bought two more, but neither of those are expected to be considered for approval until the fall.
Only one of the seven options are Canadian — Medicago — and its vaccine is still in development.
On Thursday, Kenney was asked about Alberta acquiring its own source of vaccine doses after Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister announced a contract with a Calgary-based company for the first 200,000 doses of its vaccine, once it’s approved.
Providence Therapeutics believes its mRNA vaccine for the novel coronavirus — called PTX-COVID19-B — could be ready for commercialization by the end of this year or in early 2022. It’s the first made-in-Canada vaccine to reach human clinical trials, which are currently underway.
Kenney said he’s heard from Providence that it wouldn’t produce doses locally unless it could secure a commitment for the distribution of 50 million doses — which Alberta and Manitoba can’t order on their own.
“It would be so important for us to have a domestic pharmaceutical industry here and we are very keen on doing whatever we can to make that happen,” Kenney said.
“It’s obvious that we can’t count on international vaccine supply during COVID-19, given the vaccine nationalism and the failure of the federal government to get strong enough contracts to access supply.”
Listen: Manitoba’s buy local vaccine plan is a welcome development
Kenney said it’s likely domestic vaccine producers won’t be able to start manufacturing doses before supply from international companies is consistent in Alberta.
When asked about the benefits of supporting projects that aren’t likely to be immunizing Albertans, or Canadians, in the near future, Kenney said because of delays with federally-acquired doses, having a Plan B is essential.
“We’re told by the federal government that we’re going to get enough supply to get to widespread immunity by September. But we don’t know whether we can count on that,” he said.
“Because the supply keeps evaporating. And the timelines keep slipping. So we need a solid Plan B: which means domestic production, which is not subject to the whims of foreign governments.
“We need a belt and suspenders, an all-of-the-above approach. We need to keep pressuring the federal government to, in turn, put pressure on the international suppliers… and we’ll continue to do that. But we should also plan for the worst.”
Kenney said he is “absolutely prepared” to invest in a project like the Providence vaccine or others being developed, provided provinces come together, combine their purchasing power and “do our homework” to be sure they’re feasible and timely.
The premier said he spoke with the president of Providence a couple of weeks ago and asked what the province could do to bolster production in its Calgary labs.
“He said to me, very clearly, is that they need a $150-million order representing 50 million doses,” Kenney said.
Kenney said he told the company Alberta was “very interested” in securing doses if they’re deemed safe and effective.
He added Canadian provinces need to work together to help see this vaccine development, and others underway — including in Edmonton and Saskatchewan — come to fruition.
“I’ve invited premiers to work with us — in a working group — to assess all of those to see, where is our best shot at getting fast, reliable, domestic supply,” Kenney said.
“But, as you can imagine, you don’t just snap your fingers and write a $150-million cheque — that’s not what Providence is looking for.
“They’re looking for orders and we would need to know that the project can be accomplished in good time so we could actually get the supply.”
Kenney said if domestic vaccines do come online within the next year or so, and Canada is also flooded with an influx of doses from international manufacturers, he doesn’t believe the surplus in Canada would go to waste, adding they could be sold to other countries.
When asked abut domestic vaccine production on Thursday, Alberta chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw said decisions around procuring vaccines and the various options the province can explore are not hers to make.
— With files from Mia Rabson, The Canadian Press