Justin Trudeau – Canada needs more vaccine manufacturing
Headache because it puts Canadian health officials in the dismal position of having to slow down vaccine rollout in general and specifically to front-line health workers and at long-term-care facilities.
Heartache because that slowdown will literally cost lives in those LTC facilities battling outbreaks now and in the near future. In Ontario, vaccination of LTC residents in grey-zone hot spots (except for Hamilton) is either complete or nearly complete. But homes outside hot zones are also being hit hard and this supply shortage, while temporary, means it will take longer to vaccinate residents in those homes.
Who is to blame? Federal opposition parties blame the Liberal government. It is not at all clear what they would do better or different, but they are content to accuse the government of botching vaccine acquisition. Why? Should the government not have signed a deal with Pfizer? What would have been a better alternative? How would the Conservatives and NDP have handled the vaccine file better?
Yes, maybe the Trudeau government is to blame, and maybe they’ll get turfed in the next election, which could come at any time. Then we will get to see how the Conservatives will do a superior job.
Meantime, let’s have a reality check. Justin Trudeau says he has the assurance of Pfizer’s CEO that the company will fulfil its contractual commitment to deliver four million doses by the end of March.
Federal health officials say Canada will still meet its goal of vaccinating three million people by the end of March. That amounts to about eight per cent of the population. By the end of September, 36 million Canadians — 95 per cent of the population — will be vaccinated, even if Health Canada does not approve additional vaccines.
How does that stack up against other countries? To date, just shy of 770,000, or two per cent, of Ontarians have been vaccinated. That is behind the U.S. where about six per cent of the population has been vaccinated. However, the U.S. rollout is being criticized because nearly 50 per cent of all available vaccine doses remain undistributed.
Canada is not alone in vaccine delays. Several European countries, such as Italy, along with Mexico and Saudi Arabia are also delayed.
Nationally, reports say Canada is roughly on par with Switzerland, Estonia, Finland, Austria and Poland; all of which have vaccinated about two per cent of their population.
Critics content with slamming the Trudeau government are missing a major point. As well as serving their partisan interests, they should be calling on the government to announce a dramatic increase in domestic vaccine production capacity, with the required research and development component.
After all, this country had that capacity at one point. In fact, Connaught Labs, a major hub, was publicly-owned until it was privatized by the Mulroney Progressive Conservative government. Stephen Harper subsequently cut research and development funding, which resulted in more domestic capacity being lost to other jurisdictions.
And we do have some domestic capacity now, in companies such as Toronto’s Providence Therapeutics, which is preparing to move its vaccine into human testing.
As well as dealing with the current crisis, this government should be looking ahead to the next pandemic and the one after that, and ensuring Canada has increased domestic capacity to reduce reliance on foreign suppliers. Let’s make sure we learn from this nightmare so Canada controls more of its own destiny next time.