It appears Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s colourful powers of persuasion have their limits.
Mr. Ford’s office revealed on Wednesday that the Premier had phoned the head of Pfizer Canada, Cole Pinnow, to voice his frustration over the fact that the company was delaying the scheduled shipment of its vaccine to Canada because it was retooling its plant in Europe to expand capacity.
This means Canada will, unexpectedly, get none of the vaccine next week, and a reduced amount for a few weeks after that, before shipment sizes return to normal. But the company has assured the Prime Minister’s Office that we will ultimately receive the same number of doses promised over roughly the same time period promised. In other words, this delay is a necessary hiccup, nothing more.
That wasn’t good enough for Mr. Ford, who used a news conference on Tuesday to voice his displeasure over the interruption, saying if he were Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, he’d be on the phone with Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla and up his “ying-yang so far with a firecracker, he wouldn’t know what hit him.”
It’s a shock that with such an uncomfortable threat looming, Mr. Bourla didn’t capitulate on the spot. And Mr. Ford’s call to Mr. Pinnow changed nothing.
We have reached that phase in the pandemic where political niceties are abandoned, and where opposition parties no longer feel compelled to hold off on any criticism of the government’s handling of the COVID-19 crisis.
Not that there hasn’t been cause for dissent, and areas of the federal government’s COVID-19 response strategy of which to be critical. Ottawa’s response has been far from perfect – which you could also say, to varying degrees, about every provincial government in the country.
I’m just not sure that this case – what appears to be a minor adjournment in the shipment of the vaccine to Canada – warrants the abuse Mr. Trudeau is receiving. Federal Conservative leader Erin O’Toole called the situation a “failure of leadership.” With a straight face, Conservative health critic Michelle Rempel Garner said it gave her no “pleasure in saying” that the government hasn’t delivered on the vaccine front.
The second-guessing now under way feels inevitable. Why didn’t Canada pay a premium for Pfizer’s vaccine the way Israel did, to ensure early shipments and extra supply? Never mind that most other countries paid the drug company exactly what we did for its miracle vaccine – people are complaining about our world rankings in terms of vaccinations per capita (tied for 14th), even though Israel is home to nearly 30 million fewer people and many of the glitches in the rollout have been the fault of the provinces, not Ottawa.
Not that long ago, Canada was being hailed for securing more doses per capita of the vaccine than just about any other country. But this temporary suspension by Pfizer gives the Conservatives an opportunity to kick the Liberals in the shins. And so they’ll kick away, I suppose.
Ms. Rempel is also demanding to know why Europe seems to be getting its vaccine supply from Pfizer uninterrupted, while Canada isn’t. While it’s true that Europe will not be squeezed quite as much by the closure of Pfizer’s Belgium production facility, it will still feel some impact. Other countries are experiencing supply disruptions as well, including the United States.
In any event, most people expected Europe to be well looked after if Pfizer’s – and others’ – vaccine was approved. Big pharma has a well-entrenched presence in Europe, with the headquarters of Pfizer, Sanofi and Novartis, among others, all located there. We do not have the same longstanding relationships to tap into here. That’s the way it goes.
I understand that people are tired of being cooped up. I understand that businesses are bleeding money – if they haven’t already been forced to close up shop – and need things to return to normal as soon as possible. But this delay from Pfizer will not materially change the overall vaccination timetable that the Prime Minister set out weeks ago.
Canada still expects a combined six million doses of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccine by the end of March, the same numbers and timeline as before. The government still expects that all Canadians who want to be vaccinated will be able to be no later than the end of September, the same as before.
If that still feels too long, I get it. But think of the many countries, and the many people around the world from poorer countries, that will not have a chance to be vaccinated until 2022 – if they’re lucky.
When it comes to the vaccine, and its rollout, perspective is needed. Complaining about a delay of a few weeks is not just taking political pot shots, it reeks of rich-nation privilege.
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