The Manitoba government is preparing to spend $36 million to buy millions of doses of a prospective Canadian-made COVID-19 vaccine.
Pallister first announced it had committed to buy two million doses of a vaccine produced by Calgary-based Providence Therapeutics last Thursday, and has been talking with other premiers about signing on.
At a Wednesday press conference Pallister said while a final contract with Providence is still being worked out, the deal would see the province pay $18 per dose of the vaccine. Pallister said that price could drop if other provinces sign on and Providence receives a large number of orders.
The yet-to-be-finalized agreement would see Manitoba first putting 20 per cent down, Pallister said, and a summary of a term sheet later released by the government shows that down payment — worth $7.2 million — would be non-refundable.
Pallister said Manitoba will pay another 40 per cent of the final cost on approval of the vaccine by Health Canada and the final 40 per cent will be paid on delivery. The term sheet shows both those payments will be refundable if the vaccine is not approved and delivered.
So far, there have been no other commitments: Alberta Premier Jason Kenney has said Providence may need orders totalling 50 million doses for domestic production to be feasible.
Pallister defended his government’s plan to purchase the vaccine without going through the federal government, as has happened with the two vaccines already approved for use in Canada.
He said his government is getting a good price — one he suggested is among the best in the world — and added the deal will help ensure supplies are steady.
The Canadian government has not revealed how much it is paying for existing vaccines. Pallister said he heard a “rumour” Ottawa is paying $38 a dose, but he quickly added that figure was subject to verification.
“The point is to create a situation where there can be vaccines here that can be injected into people’s arms,” Pallister said.
Pallister said he intended to pursue the issue Thursday during a conference call between the premiers and prime minister and promised to release full details of the deal once it has been finalized.
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 has previously said the province’s agreement would see it get the first 200,000 doses of the vaccine as soon as it is approved for sale in Canada.
He has also said the agreement includes a “best-price guarantee” that means the province won’t pay more than any other government for the vaccine.
On Tuesday Ken Hughes, chair of the board at Providence Therapeutics, told the House of Commons it is on track to produce 50 million doses this year.
Beginning in July, the company said they have the capacity to produce 50,000 vials per day, with each vial containing 10 doses.
Last week Providence told the Canadian Press it has asked the federal government for a 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.
The federal minister for public services and procurement said ample supplies of vaccines that are already approved will be arriving in the coming months, and shipments from Pfizer are expected to more than quadruple by this week.
“We have secured vaccines for all Canadians who wish to be vaccinated by the end of September 2021, if not before,” Anita Anand said in a statement last week.
Manitoba’s Opposition New Democrats said Pallister’s Progressive Conservative government should work on getting a publicly owned lab to manufacture existing vaccines instead of funding a private firm developing a vaccine that has not yet been approved.
“We could just go to the existing approved vaccines out there on the market and just license the technology and then manufacture them domestically,” NDP Leader Wab Kinew said.
On Wednesday health officials announced one additional death connected to COVID-19 and 76 new infections.
The latest victim, a man in his 80s linked to an outbreak at St. Boniface Hospital unit 5B in Winnipeg, brings Manitoba’s COVID-19 death toll to 876.
The new infections bring the province’s total number of cases reported since March last year to 31,007.
–With files from The Canadian Press
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