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VIEWPOINT: Faith in vaccine program comes down to your faith in the PM
By Fred Sherwin
Feb. 4, 2020

In my last column I wrote about the faith I had in Canada’s vaccine program and the health community’s ability to vaccinate the majority of Canadians by July 1. I’ve since had a slight change of heart thanks to a story published on the CBC News website.

The story’s headline is “Canada inks deal to produce millions of COVID-19 shots domestically”. Sounds fantastic at first glance until you read the rest of the story.

The federal government and the NRC plans to build a facility in Montreal that will produce millions of doses of the Novavax vaccine, but until the end of the year. The facility itself should be built by July, but before it becomes operational, both it and the Novavax vaccine have to be approved by Health Canada.

That’s expected to take several more months. In other words it won’t be ready until after most Canadians have already been vaccinated. That’s disappointing, but the news that Canada will have its own domestic supply of a COVD-19 vaccine is huge step in the right direction in combating future coronaviruses.

Without it we are at the mercy of the pharmaceutical companies and the ability of countries to implement restrictions on distribution, if so inclined.

This has become glaringly apparent with the ongoing disputes between the European Union and the United Kingdom and the European Union and vaccine producers Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna.

The European Commission claims the UK has been keeping doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine being produced at its Cheshire plant near Liverpool to themselves.

In response, the European Union has adopted a Europe first policy when it comes to the distribution of vaccines being produced in its member countries, namely the Pfizer plant in Belgium and the BioNTech plant in Germany.

Meanwhile, the United States has adopted an America first policy when it comes to vaccines being produced at the Pfizer plant in Kalamazoo, Michigan and the Moderna plant in Norwood, Massachusetts.

So where does that live Canada? Well it depends on whether you believe Justin Trudeau or not.

When pressed by reporters this week on the reliability of the vaccine supply chain from Europe, the PM said that he had received verbal assurances from European leaders in private phone conversations, no less, that Canada’s supply will not be affected by the goings on across the pond.

Asked why he didn’t insist on written assurances, Trudeau offered up this gem which could come back to haunt all of us – “an awful lot of firm commitments are made in conversations.”

Excuse me?

So the future of Canada’s ability to vac-cinate its residents is entirely dependent on “firm commitments” made in conversations with European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen.

If you're a Conservative, you’re laughing your tail off right now. If you’re a Liberal you are entirely confident that Trudeau will keep the Europeans to their “firm” verbal commitment. If you are a pessimistic independent voter, you’re likely don’t have a lot of faith in Trudeau’s words. And if you are an optimistic independent voter you’re hoping to God that he’s right.

As for myself, let’s just say I’m growing more and more skeptical with each passing day.

The Biden government plans to vaccinate 150 million people over the next 100 days. That works out to 1.5 million a day. Easily doable considering they have their own domestic supply of vaccines.

For Canada to keep pace, we would have to vaccinate roughly 150,000 a day. The federal government was hoping to vaccinate 250,000 this week, or about 35,000 a day. That’s a long way from 150,000, especially when you’re dependent on a “firm” verbal commitment from the folks controlling the supply.

Whether you have faith in Trudeau and the Liberal government’s ability to deliver on their promise to vaccinate everyone by September or not, it should be abundantly clear to everyone that without a domestic supply of our own, we are basically at the mercy of the vaccine manufacturers and the countries where they are being produced.

The best case scenario would see the vaccine companies produce enough vaccines to satisfy everybody’s needs, including our own. If not, we may very well end up at the back of the line, relying on everyone else’s scraps.

Like it or not, the Trudeau government will be judged on how quickly it’s able to get vaccines into people’s arms compared to other G8 countries. What’s clear is that the ability of a country to bounce back economically will depend directly on its ability to vaccinate its population, which makes it vitally important. I’m just not sure how much I want to leave our economic future up to a “firm” verbal commitment our esteemed PM got in a private phone converation.

(If you wish to comment on this or any other View Point column please write to Fred Sherwin at fsherwin@magma.ca)

 

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