Canada is “certainly in the top five” on the list of countries to receive doses of a novel coronavirus vaccine the country’s minister of intergovernmental affairs says.
Dominic LeBlanc made the comments during an interview with The West Block’s Mercedes Stephenson airing on Sunday.
“As we have said from the beginning, we as a government, as a national government, aggressively negotiated contracts with seven major suppliers of potential vaccines,” he said. “The three that appear the first to likely be approved for use because they’re safe and effective [are] AstraZeneca, Moderna and Pfizer.”
LeBlanc said Canada has “millions of doses” under contract, adding that the first six million doses — enough for three million Canadians requiring two doses each — will begin arriving in early January.
LeBlanc said they are working with the premiers to ensure there is a “very, very effective and efficient logistics system to roll out these vaccines safely to provinces and territories so we can start immunizing Canadians on the very first opportunity.”
Asked how quickly a vaccine will be delivered across the country after it is approved by Health Canada, LeBlanc said doses will “start to arrive literally within a matter of weeks, if not a couple of weeks — early January at the latest.”
“And they will start to roll out the provinces and territories under the logistical chain of operations that is being put in place right now,” he said.
According to LeBlanc, the federal government has held 29 meetings with provincial and territorial health authorities since May to discuss logistics.
“But that work will obviously massively ramp up over the coming days as we get ready for the arrival of the vaccine,” he said.
Asked why Canada will only see a couple million doses of a potential vaccine immediately, while other countries could vaccinate massive portions of their populations, LeBlanc pointed to a lack of manufacturing capabilities in the country.
He said the bio-manufacturing capacity in Canada has “eroded over the last 20 years,” pointing to the closure of the AstraZeneca facilities in Montreal in 2007 and 2012 during Stephen Harper’s time as prime minister.
“So this tendency to send to other jurisdictions the massive bio-manufacturing capacity means that Canada has to procure to buy internationally from these companies massive quantities of the vaccines,” he said. “And the good news is we’ve done exactly that.”
However, LeBlanc said the federal government has been investing in developing a “much more robust domestic bio-manufacturing capacity than exists today,” but noted it is a “complicated” process.
While more than 400 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines are on order, the opposition parties have raised concerns that many of the contracts the federal government signed were late, putting Canada further down in the queue.
LeBlanc said he does not know when every single country signed contracts, saying those commercial contracts are normally kept confidential.
However, he said the timeline may also depend on how many doses of each vaccine a country is buying from which company.
“If you’re going to buy five doses and somebody comes along and says you’re going to buy 200 doses, maybe you get a better position in the lineup,” he said. “I mean, all of these are global commercial contracts representing huge amounts of money.”
What is “important,” LeBlanc said, is that the federal government was “aggressive and robust in procuring binding agreements” so that when a vaccine is deemed safe for use, Canadians will be vaccinated “efficiently and effectively.”
Speaking at a press conference on Friday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said his government is working “extremely hard” to deliver a vaccine “as quickly and as safely as possible.”
Trudeau said “if all goes according to plan,” a majority of Canadians could be vaccinated by next September, putting the country in a “very good stead.”
LeBlanc’s remarks come as the country continues to struggle to contain the second wave of the coronavirus pandemic.
On Saturday the country saw 5,757 new coronavirus infections and 82 new fatalities.
By 8 a.m. ET on Sunday, Canadian health officials had reported a total of 364,501 confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus.
To date, 11,976 people have died in Canada after testing positive for COVID-19.
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