The Morning Brief – 12.03.20

By Bruce Carson


COVID-19 Vaccines—UK approval of Pfizer/Bio N Teck vaccine, with others apparently on the horizon

Where is Canada in the vaccine process?

First Ministers’ Meeting, December 10—Healthcare Transfers—COVID-19—Vaccines

Yesterday morning it was announced that the United Kingdom was the first western country to approve a COVID-19 vaccine. The approval was secured by Pfizer/ Bio N Teck SE. This is one of the vaccines that is part of Canada’s list of seven vaccines that the Trudeau government has contracted for and is presently before Health Canada as the regulatory agency for approval.

The approval process used in the UK was for emergency authorization, which the vaccine obtained and doses should be available next week. The UK regulatory agency stated that the vaccine “met its strict standards of safety, quality and effectiveness.” There are no serious side effects and it is 95% effective for all age groups. Vaccinations will begin nationwide next week.

Britain has ordered 40 million doses with 800,000 to arrive next week. Immunization will target health care workers first then residents of homecare and then the segment of the population over 80 years of age.

This is the vaccine that is to be stored at -70 C degrees, but can be kept in a regular freezer for just a few days. Two doses, 21 days apart are required for immunity.

The United States Food and Drug Administration will be meeting on December 10 to discuss whether to recommend emergency authorization for the Pfizer/Bio N Tech vaccine. The FDA will hold a public meeting on December 17 to deal with further applications for approval. In an article published by Bloomberg, written by Robert Langreth, Moderna (also on Canada’s list and being reviewed by Health Canada) is reported to have requested clearance for its vaccine from the U.S. and the EU. Moderna’s application will be reviewed at the public meeting of the FDA on December 17.

Brian Lilley, columnist for the Toronto Sun wrote yesterday that a shipment of Pfizer vaccine was flown from Brussels to Chicago on Monday of this week. Lilley quotes Prime Minister Trudeau as saying last Friday that the “majority of Canadians will be vaccinated by next September.”

He also quotes the Chair of Moderna who in a CBC interview last weekend who stated “Canada is not at the back of the line,” but Lilley adds, he wouldn’t say where we were in that line. Moderna is to start shipping in the first quarter of 2021 and Canada would get doses from those shipments, provided it is approved by Health Canada.

Procurement Minister Anand is quoted as saying that it is “not possible to mark a single date on the calendar, but delivery will be within the first quarter of next year. There is to be sufficient doses for three million Canadians.

On Tuesday evening, Minister Anand on Power and Politics provided a bit more clarity on the process. Anand said, as she has previously, that once approval is obtained from Health Canada delivery of the relevant vaccine “should” occur shortly thereafter.

Also in the interview, Vassy Kapelos reminded Anand that Intergovernmental Affairs Minister LeBlanc on her program indicated six million doses would be arriving in January. Anand’s response was that the focus should be on the first quarter of 2021.

She went on to say that the federal government was in the process of acquiring necessary freezers for storage and dry ice. Of the 126 freezers needed 38 had been acquired. Yesterday that number changed as all required freezers had been acquired. But Anand would not say whether the government will make the delivery date for the vaccine public.

On Sunday, on Evan Solomon’s Question Period program, John Ivison stated that if Canada had paid a premium price for delivery of the vaccines, we would be on a par with other countries. He described Canada’s situation as “we ordered the whole menu, but did not order express delivery.”

This could be one of the reasons the government seems either evasive or it just doesn’t know what and when it will receive from vaccine manufacturers. Amir Attaran, professor of law and medicine at the University of Ottawa was also part of the panel discussion and made the point that Canada does have the facilities to manufacture vaccines. His views are contained in an article by Licia Corbella of the Calgary Herald.

Matt Gurney writing in the National Post a few days ago stated that an early goal of the Trudeau government was that Canada would be able to produce COVID-19 vaccines. There was an August announcement of a new facility to be built in Montreal. Also the Royalmount Avenue NRC facility was to undergo a retrofit and it would be able to produce such vaccines, but in small quantities, as in 250,000 doses per month. Unfortunately, as renos do, they fell behind schedule and will now open in mid-2021.

Gurney comments that “if our shipments come later than everyone else’s, much later, then the failure to renovate the Royalmount facility on time may come back to haunt the Liberals. That was something that was seriously in their power to get right. They didn’t.”

One of the last pieces of the vaccine procurement puzzle comes from Conservative leader Erin O’Toole who stated last Sunday that the Trudeau government only turned to Pfizer and Moderna after the vaccine deal with China failed. CanSino was supposed to provide samples of the vaccine for clinical trials at the Centre for Vaccinology at Dalhousie University and that was blocked by the Chinese government. Trudeau does not agree with the timing set out by O’Toole. This will be easily cleared up when the contracts are produced by the government.

O’Toole said on Sunday, “I would not have put all our eggs in the basket of China.” He added its “very concerning that in the midst of a pandemic, when we had early questions about the transparency of China, that the Trudeau government was willing to double down on partnering with China.”

The problem with all of the above, particularly recent answers from Health Minister Hajdu and Procurement Minister Anand is that because they are not clear on specifics, a trail of doubt is created which attacks the credibility of the government at a time when it can least afford this to occur.

Two of Canada’s closest allies are in the final stages of dealing with approvals and procurement. The UK is planning to distribute an approved vaccine next week and the U.S. FDA has meetings scheduled during this month to deal with applications for approval of vaccines.

It should not be too much to ask of our government for clear answers as to when vaccines will be approved for use and when will they be available for distribution across the country.

First Ministers meet in a week’s time; if the answers to these questions are not clear before the meeting, they should be made clear at the meeting. Peoples’ lives are at stake as they search for an end to a pandemic. Vaccines are looked upon as the lifeline that will lift us out of the darkness and back to some form of normalcy.

Surely Prime Minister Trudeau understands that the suite of vaccines that his government has procured and the number of doses that Canadians could receive are only effective when they are injected into the arms of Canadians. This situation requires action, answers and honesty.

To Come

December 4
  • International trade numbers for October to be released
  • Job numbers for November to be released
December 9
  • Bank of Canada deals with interest rates
December 10
  • First Ministers’ Meeting
December 16
  • CPI numbers for November to be released

As usual, The Morning Brief returns on Tuesday, March 31

– BC