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Jasna Stojanovski and Melissa Hyde, registered pharmacy technicians at St. Michael's Hospital in Toronto, prepare syringes with COVID-19 vaccine on the first day of Unity Health’s vaccine program, Dec. 22, 2020.Melissa Tait/The Globe and Mail

The federal government says it is offering to pay higher prices to pharmaceutical companies in exchange for a larger and faster supply of COVID-19 vaccines but isn’t revealing what Canada agreed to spend in these private negotiations.

Public Services and Procurement Minister Anita Anand said Friday that price is a factor in her near daily discussions with international drug makers to ramp up the pace of deliveries.

The minister also pushed back at criticism from some provinces that vaccines are running out by stating that Ottawa is working to increase the pace of deliveries and is giving provincial governments clear numbers to work with for this month and next.

She also warned that deviations by provinces from the recommended timelines for a required second dose could hinder Ottawa’s negotiating efforts.

“It’s important from a procurement perspective, to remember also that as we press for additional deliveries on an accelerated basis, we need to be able to show to the vaccine company that Canada is indeed following the instructions that the second dose be administered in a certain time frame,” she said.

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People wear face masks as they wait to be tested for COVID-19 at a clinic in Montreal, Sunday, January 3, 2021, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues in Canada and around the world.Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press

When Moderna was asked Friday whether the rollout would factor into new negotiations to speed up shipments, the company declined to comment.

Christina Antoniou, the director of corporate affairs for Pfizer Canada, said the company recognizes that recommendations on alternative dosing intervals reside with provincial health authorities and may include adapting public-health recommendations in reaction to evolving circumstances during a pandemic.

“However, as a biopharmaceutical company working in a highly regulated environment, our position is guided by the data from our Phase 3 study and by the Health Canada approved product monograph,” she said. “It is important to us that the dosing interval authorized by Health Canada is followed.”

She said the company is committed to a continuing discussion with regulators, public-health authorities and governments across Canada.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau discussed the vaccine rollout on Thursday evening with provincial and territorial premiers and some provinces publicly expressed concern on Friday about the federal government’s role in securing and providing vaccines for provinces to administer.

Ontario needs a more reliable supply to meet its growing capacity, Premier Doug Ford said.

“Every single day we’re getting more and more needles into people’s arms and protecting more and more of our front-line health care workers, long-term care residents and most vulnerable,” Mr. Ford said. “But we’re quickly running out.”

Federal officials said Friday they are on pace to receive six million doses of vaccines by the end of March, adding they have provided the provinces with clear forecasts for deliveries through January and February.

During a news conference with reporters, Ms. Anand was asked whether Canada is not receiving vaccine doses as quickly as other countries, such as Israel, because those countries agreed to pay a higher price.

Israel’s aggressive vaccination campaign has garnered international attention. The country has so far vaccinated more than 19 per cent of its population of 8.8 million, but it has not said how much it has paid for the vaccine. However, an official told Reuters on the condition of anonymity that the government was paying around US$30 a dose, or double the price paid in other countries.

Reuters has also reported the European Union is paying US$19 a dose for the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.

“I want to start by saying that we put everything on the table with the vaccine companies in our negotiations with them,” Ms. Anand said.

“The short answer to your question is we did put price on the table, of course, as well as a number of other factors. And it is as a result of our very strong position at the negotiating table that we were able to sign with Pfizer and Moderna first, that we were at the front of the line for Pfizer and Moderna.”

The minister said the nature of her present negotiations with the company CEOs is securing more supply and to have the delivery of promised vaccines moved up, such as from the third quarter to the second quarter of 2021, or from the second quarter to the first quarter.

“We are pressing on all fronts to do whatever it takes to make sure that we have vaccines in this country as soon as possible,” she said.

The minister said Ottawa’s target of vaccinating all Canadians who want one by September depends on other vaccines being approved.

Canada has not revealed how much it is paying per dose. In its fall economic statement, the government said it had invested more than $1-billion in vaccine agreements to secure a domestic supply of seven promising vaccine candidates.

Earlier this week, Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister expressed concern about Canada lagging behind other countries, including the United States, and Alberta Premier Jason Kenney said his province is concerned that as it picks up the pace of inoculation that the supply will be inadequate.

New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs said it is evident from Thursday’s discussion with Mr. Trudeau that every province is set to receive more vaccines.

“We know we will be getting a few thousand more vaccines over the next few days, but we have only an approximation of when and how much we will receive,” Mr. Higgs said.

“That makes it very difficult to plan. But we don’t blame anyone for that … . Every country in the world is facing these same challenges.”

Major-General Dany Fortin, who is leading the federal government’s logistics efforts in relation to the rollout of vaccines, said provinces now have firm numbers that they can rely on in terms of weekly vaccine supply.

He noted that the current figures are much more reliable than federal forecasts in the initial days and weeks of vaccination when officials were making assumptions based on limited information.

Mr. Trudeau, who acknowledged Friday to Montreal’s CHOU 1450-AM radio station there could be a federal election this year, said Canada is on track to deliver approximately 1.3 million doses of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines by the end of January and quantities of vaccines from both companies will scale up in February.

Dr. Supriya Sharma, Health Canada’s chief medical adviser, also said her department is actively working on the review of two additional vaccines from Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca. She said that work is “progressing well,” but that more information is needed. She did not provide an estimate for when Health Canada might make a final decision on either of the two vaccine candidates.

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