Canadians should expect to get the COVID-19 vaccine later than people in other countries because we can’t produce the vaccine in-house, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has warned.
“Canada no longer has any domestic production capacity for vaccines,” Trudeau told reporters on Tuesday. He said the United States, Germany, and the U.K. have pharmaceutical facilities that will produce vaccines for their own citizens first.
Mexico might also get vaccines before Canada—a fact that did not bode well with Conservative Party members.
“Reuters is even reporting that Mexico will receive a vaccine before Canadians,” Conservative Party leader Erin O’Toole said in parliament on Tuesday. Calgary MP Michelle Rempel also criticized the reality that Mexico could access COVID-19 vaccines before Canada.
The Mexican ambassador in Canada responded on Twitter.
“Mexico has worked hard to ensure equitable access to vaccines for all. We believe a pandemic is a time to promote solidarity, rather than showing selfishness, which could endanger us all,” Juan José Gómez Camacho said, tagging Rempel and O’Toole.
Trudeau maintains Canada has one of the most robust vaccine portfolios in the world. The prime minister has already secured millions of vaccine doses for Canadians and promised that the most vulnerable—the elderly, immunocompromised people, as well as Indigenous communities—will be first in line to get vaccinated against the deadly coronavirus.
But with many countries promising the first round of vaccinations within the month, pressure is mounting on Trudeau to give Canadians a concrete timeline.
So far, Trudeau has said he expects doses to start trickling into Canada in the early months of 2021—as long as Health Canada approves them, and only after countries vaccinate their own citizens. Then, “they will start honouring and delivering on the contracts that they signed with other countries, including with Canada,” Trudeau said.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is planning to convene on December 10 to determine whether the Pfizer vaccine, which is reportedly 95 percent effective, is ready to be administered to patients. Vaccines will likely be available in select areas in the U.S. one or two days after formal approval.
Pfizer has estimated it will produce enough doses to immunize about 25 million people in the U.S. by the end of the year. Project Warp Speed, which is in charge of expediting vaccine distribution in the U.S., estimates about 600 to 700 million doses will be available by March or April, the Washington Post reported.
Attaran said that despite Canada’s limited ability to make vaccines, the country could still produce small batches to ensure vulnerable groups and healthcare workers get vaccinated as soon as possible.
“The federal government failed to do the obvious thing, to license it as other countries have,” Attaran said, adding that countries around the world have started manufacturing vaccines that haven’t been approved for distribution yet as a way to build their stockpile of doses.
Earlier this year, the Trudeau government invested millions of dollars into vaccine manufacturing facilities at the University of Saskatchewan and in Montreal.
“It’s not a situation right now where we can take technologies that other people have and use them and it’s unfortunate,” he said, adding that Canada should have invested in vaccine technology years earlier. Now, the country has to use this as a learning experience to better prepare for future pandemics, he said.
Canada is currently struggling with its worst ever daily number of COVID-19 cases, and now has a total of 347,466 confirmed cases and 11,710 deaths. Regions that previously avoided the worst of the pandemic are recording outbreaks and residents all over the country are confused by the ever-changing lockdown measures.
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