Prime Minister Justin Trudeau engaged in a strange bit of misdirection on Tuesday when he said Canada would not be among the first countries to receive COVID-19 vaccinations, because it “no longer has any domestic production capacity for vaccines.”
The United States, the United Kingdom and Germany are all aiming to start inoculating people in a matter of weeks, based on the fact the manufacturers of some of the leading vaccine candidates have production capacity on their shores.
Canada, on the other hand, will have to wait until the early months of 2021, Mr. Trudeau said.
It’s puzzling why he would mention something that, on the surface, is worrisome to Canadians, but in fact applies to most of the world.
The only Western country with any kind of a guarantee that it will be able to begin inoculations in December is the U.S., and that’s because the Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna vaccines – two of the three closest to approval – will first roll out there.
Germany has a deal, along with Italy, the Netherlands and France, with AstraZeneca that could see it share 400 million doses of the promising Oxford vaccine by the end of this year.
The U.K. could have the Oxford vaccine by then, too, but it will not have access to the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines until next year.
As well, all the leading manufacturers are busy creating non-U.S. supply chains that will begin delivery early in 2021.
It’s not even true that Canada has no domestic production capacity for traditional vaccines. And the feds earlier this year funded expansions at two vaccine facilities; one in Montreal was supposed to be capable of producing 250,000 doses a month by November and two million by next year. However, there just is no immediate capacity to make the vaccines developed by Moderna and Pfizer, which use a groundbreaking gene therapy.
Ottawa probably should have spent more on a bigger domestic production facility and pushed for it to be built faster. But the federal government was aggressive in ordering close to 400 million doses from multiple manufacturers, while those vaccines were still in testing and development. By contracting for far more doses than Canada will ever need, Ottawa bought a kind of insurance policy. Assuming the manufacturers honour the contracts, there should be more than enough to go around.
So why did Mr. Trudeau alarm the population and arm the opposition?
It’s hard to explain, unless you look at the debate over Canada’s ability to quickly get its hands on a new vaccine as a distraction from a more pressing issue: Ottawa’s glaring lack of a plan to distribute and administer those millions of doses.
In the U.K., the government has designated 1,250 local health clinics as injection sites that will give the first available vaccines to vulnerable people, such as the elderly, as early as next month.
It is also setting up at least 42 mass vaccination sites, such as conference centres, which if all goes well will begin serving the rest of the population beginning in January.
In the U.S., the federal government has hired a retired general who ran the army’s supply chain to distribute vaccines to injection sites in each state on a per capita basis. The doses will come with prepackaged kits containing syringes, wipes and personal protective equipment.
And in Canada? We get platitudes from Health Minister Patty Hajdu about how the government is working “around the clock” to come up with “a concrete plan with the provinces and territories.”
Given the poor job Ottawa and the provinces have done on testing and tracing, which have the same logistical challenges, there’s reason to be concerned that when vaccines arrive, their distribution will be haphazard.
Tell us: Who is in charge of distribution at the federal level? Who are their counterparts in the provinces and territories? Who will get inoculated first? Will the vaccines be allocated to provinces on a per capita basis or by some other formula?
Where will the vaccines be delivered? In pharmacies? Hospitals? Temporary sites in hockey arenas? Who will staff them? What other infrastructure is needed?
Canadians have no clue about any of these things. And right now there is zero concrete evidence that their governments do either.
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