Canada has signed an agreement to secure another 20 million vaccine doses as the global race for a COVID-19 vaccine intensifies.
During a news conference in Ottawa today, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced a deal with AstraZeneca on access to a vaccine prospect now being developed at Oxford University. As a result, the federal government has now secured access to six leading vaccine candidates. None of the candidates has been shown to work so far.
“We’ve been guided by science since the very beginning and right now, both the COVID-19 vaccine task force and the immunity task force are doing important work to help us identify the most promising vaccine options and strategies,” he said.
There is no approved vaccine yet for COVID-19, though there are many in clinical trials and in development. Public Services and Procurement Minister Anita Anand said the global market is “intense and unpredictable.”
“Each supplier and therefore each negotiation is unique, with its own set of concerns,” she said. “The resulting agreements contain terms specifying the quantity, the price, the anticipated delivery schedule, the manufacturing and finishing parameters for each vaccine.
“When a vaccine is ready, Canada will be ready.”
The federal government already has reached vaccine agreements with Sanofi, GlaxoSmithKline, Johnson & Johnson, Novavax, Pfizer and Moderna, for a total of 282 million doses.
Full payments to drug companies are contingent on the vaccines passing clinical trials and obtaining regulatory approval.
Health Canada says it will review the evidence on safety, efficacy and manufacturing quality for each vaccine to determine if individual vaccines will be approved for use in Canada before they are made available to Canadians.
Government buying syringes, swabs, needles
The government is also procuring equipment and supplies needed for vaccine manufacturing and packaging, as well as immunization equipment such as syringes, needles and alcohol swabs.
Trudeau also announced that Canada will provide $440 million to COVAX, a global procurement initiative meant to ensure fair, equitable and timely access to vaccines for less wealthy countries.
“This pandemic can’t be solved by any one country alone because to eliminate the virus anywhere, we need to eliminate it everywhere,” Trudeau said.
The U.S. is not participating in the global COVAX project.
Trudeau said the fact that 190 countries are participating — some as contributors, others as recipients — shows that “the world is coming together.”
“Unfortunately, there are a few large countries that have decided not to participate, but I can assure you that the number of countries that have stepped up and participated like Canada is ensuing that we’re going a long way towards having a vaccine accessible for the most vulnerable around the world, which is essential as we move forward to get past this pandemic,” he said.
Rapid test in the works
With frustratingly long waits for COVID-19 tests still the norm in some parts of the country, the federal government is under increasing pressure to approve rapid testing options. Asked about the holdup today, Trudeau said Health Canada accelerated the process to evaluate testing measures this spring.
“But at the same time we have to make sure that every step of the way we are not compromising science or the safety of Canadians,” he said.
Earlier this week, Tam warned that Canada is at a “crossroads” in its pandemic battle and said the actions of individual Canadians will decide whether there will be a massive spike in COVID-19 cases.
Modelling shows the epidemic is accelerating nationally, with projections that cases could climb to more than 5,000 daily by October. If Canadians don’t step up preventative measures, the virus could spread out of control and trigger a wave of infections bigger than the first one, Tam said.
The following day, Trudeau delivered a rare address to the nation with a similar message. He warned that infections could surge and urged Canadians to do their part to prevent transmission by following public health guidelines on masks, gatherings and physical distancing.