House Call with Carol Hughes

Canadians have a right to know about vaccine supplies

Production delays are directly affecting Canada’s anticipated delivery of vaccines, calling into question the government’s timeline for distribution, and confirming the belief that we should have negotiated the ability to produce doses domestically. The problems emerged in early January when the federal government claimed that Canada’s vaccine shipment would be reduced by 50 percent over a four-week period. What made that difficult to accept was the news that the European Union will have a much shorter interruption in deliveries than Canada. Despite assurances from the government that countries will be impacted equally by supply reductions, Canadians are learning that isn’t really the case.

Less than a week later, we learned that shipments of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine to Canada have been suspended entirely for a full week. With the second wave of the pandemic fully upon us and cases surging in most jurisdictions, this further delays vaccinations for Canada’s highest risk populations. To make matters more urgent, federal modelling warns of worse days to come.

Adding to the challenge is a secretiveness surrounding vaccine procurement on the part of the government. For months they have been tight-lipped about the terms of the deals they’ve signed with big drug manufacturers. They are also displaying a pattern of contradictions that are becoming unacceptably common and could even be accused of over-confidence when it comes to the arrangements they have made. That was the message from critics when the government passed on the opportunity to purchase up to 16 million additional doses of the Moderna vaccine without disclosing the full terms of this forgone option.

Transparency is essential for maintaining the public’s trust and confidence in Canada’s vaccination strategy. That’s the reasons New Democrats are calling on the federal government to reveal how many vaccine doses have been secured for each month until September 2021. Canadians deserve clarity since, as we’ve now seen, these orders aren’t firm. We also asked the government to confirm if Canada is guaranteed delivery of four million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine by the end of March 2021, or if this date simply represents another floating target.

The federal government is responsible for ensuring we have access to enough vaccine doses to protect Canadians from COVID-19. People are making tremendous sacrifices to keep their communities safe because they understand that every day matters during this pandemic. They need and deserve the full details of Canada’s vaccine delivery timeline.

As it stands, Canada has only received 380,000 doses of vaccine and another 400,000 were supposed to be delivered this month. However, relying on other nations to produce the vaccine could derail that timeline. While countries like Brazil, Australia, Japan, India and China successfully negotiated the right to domestically produce the AstraZeneca vaccine, the Canadian government failed to make that agreement in its negotiations with the company.

There is no reason Canada should be relying on other countries to produce vaccines for us. The government simply failed to negotiate that right and now production delays in Europe mean that Canadians will be the ones waiting extra weeks or months for a vaccine. The government needs to come clean and make pertinent contract details public.