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Feds ‘in discussions’ to secure COVID-19 booster, variant shots: Health Canada

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As health officals race to vaccinate the population against COVID-19, experts have warned that the virus could become endemic, meaning Canadians could need booster shots to ensure they are protected in the years ahead.

How does the government plan to secure and provide booster shots to Canadians?

Here’s a closer look.

Read more: COVID-19 vaccine tracker: How many Canadians are vaccinated?

In a statement emailed to Global News, Health Canada said the expected future trajectory of the novel coronavirus and pandemic “is not yet clear, nor is the future evolution of virus variants and their severity.”

The agency says there aren’t currently any vaccines on the market that have been developed specifically as booster shots, or that specifically target the new, more transmissible variants.
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However, Health Canada says there are some shots that are “in early development.”

“Work is underway to define our future booster needs, both in terms of quantities and the vaccine technologies on which to focus,” the statement read. “Canada is in discussions with vaccine developers regarding plans for early and secure access to booster and variant vaccines when they become available.”

The agency said the federal government will “continue to take an evidence-based approach to its vaccine procurement decisions” and is “following the advice of experts in terms of planning for what Canada’s potential future vaccine needs will be, and how those needs can be best addressed.”

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Currently, Canada is receiving all of its COVID-19 vaccines from overseas.

This has proved difficult for the country’s mass vaccination plan, as several delays from the manufacturers have stalled rollout.

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Canada has fallen significantly behind its closest allies when it comes to vaccination.

As of Sunday afternoon, just over five million COVID-19 vaccine doses had been administered across the country, meaning approximately 6.47 per cent of the Canadian population has been vaccinated.

In comparison, 140 million doses have been given in the United States. That means 14.42 per cent of the American population has been inoculated against the virus so far.

Read more: Where is Canada now in its rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine?

Canada’s lack of domestic vaccine manufacturing capability has been “highlighted as a health security threat,” Dr. Isaac Bogoch, an infectious diseases faculty member at the University of Toronto said.

“And it is,” he continued. “But I don’t think that’s lost on the Canadian government and the local governments.”

In a statement emailed to Global News, Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada (ISED) said the federal government is “investing in made-in-Canada projects to protect Canadians from COVID-19” and “ensure our country is well-positioned to fight future pandemics here at home.”

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The agency said Canada is “developing domestic biomanufacturing capacity,” and by doing so, the government will “be able to ensure that both the quality and the availability of vaccines and therapeutic drugs is secure going forward.”

Read more: 30 travellers entering Canada caught with suspected fake COVID-19 test results: CBSA

According to ISED, since the beginning of the pandemic, the government has allocated $792 million under the new Strategic Innovation Fund COVID-19 stream in order to deliver “direct support to Canadian companies; in particular, helping develop domestic COVID-19 vaccines, therapies and bio-manufacturing opportunities, while also building future capability.”

The agency said this is in addition to supports provided to the National Research Council, for the facilities at Royalmount, and VIDO-Intervac, and through other government funding programs.

Bogoch said there has been a “tremendous investment” to produce vaccines at home, pointing to the government’s deal to manufacture shots at a facility in Montreal.

The federal government announced last month it had struck a deal with Novavax to produce its COVID-19 vaccine candidate in Canada at a new Montreal facility that is under construction.
However, doses are not expected to be manufactured in the country until at least the fall.
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“Is that enough? No, but it’s a really good start in the local production of vaccine,” Bogoch said.

He also said there are a number of companies within Canada that are “innovating and creating homegrown COVID-19 vaccines as well.”

“I don’t think you’re going to flip a switch overnight and all of a sudden re-create your vaccine creation and manufacturing capability,” he said. “It’s obvious you need to require a sustained investment over time, not just at the manufacturing level, but also at the innovation level and the basic science level.”

Read more: Path out of COVID-19 pandemic isn’t easy, but there’s hope: experts

ISED said the federal government has “worked with Canadian and international companies to explore opportunities to bring elements of the COVID-19 vaccine manufacturing supply chain to Canada, and will continue to do whatever it can to assist interested firms in finding partners to that end.”

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According to the agency, consultations have also been launched to ensure Canada is “prepared and ready for future pandemics, including through vaccine and therapeutics manufacturing.”

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