Canada spent about $16-million on the hundreds of thousands of COVID-19 vaccines the country received in December, according to an analysis of trade data from Statistics Canada.
The assessment of vaccine shipments to Canada is the first look at how much the federal government is spending on the crucial shots. Although the first vaccine contracts were signed six months ago, Ottawa has refused to release the total cost of the seven vaccine contracts or the per-unit price. In the fall, the government said it had spent more than $1-billion to secure its vaccine contracts. For weeks, it has said an update to that number is coming.
The United States has released the contracts for its vaccines as well as the price. Canada has said it’s unable to do the same.
But as the government’s vaccination campaign has faltered, it has been under pressure to release more information about the delivery schedules it negotiated. MPs at a House of Commons committee pressed Procurement Minister Anita Anand for the information on Friday. She said the government is trying to find out from the drug-makers what information it can release.
Ms. Anand told NDP MP Don Davies she is “working to find whether there is a solution here.”
The issue also came up in Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s virtual meeting with the premiers on Thursday, when Quebec Premier François Legault pushed Mr. Trudeau to release the contracts, a senior federal source said.
Mr. Trudeau told the premiers he is frustrated at delivery delays, but assured them Pfizer and Moderna will meet their commitment of six million doses by the end of March, the source said. If that fails, the official said, Mr. Trudeau told the premiers they can blame him.
The source said the Liberals are examining whether to release at least some parts of the contracts, and the government is wading through legal advice and assessments of Canadian interests.
The Globe and Mail is not identifying the official because they were not permitted to disclose the private deliberations.
Opposition MPs asked Ms. Anand what accountability measures the government negotiated and whether companies guaranteed their delivery schedules or only said they would use their “best reasonable efforts,” as AstraZeneca did in its contract with the European Union.
“The contracts, as I mentioned, are subject to confidentiality and therefore it would be imprudent, if not illegal, for me to go into detail,” she said. She added that she would check if the government can release the confidentiality clauses in the contracts.
Statscan partly lifted the veil of secrecy in its Friday data release. Using import transaction records provided to Statscan from the Canada Border Services Agency, economist Benoît Carrière said the statistics agency was able to calculate the cost of the first COVID-19 vaccine doses to arrive.
“Based on a preliminary analysis, it is estimated that Canada’s imports of COVID-19 vaccines totaled approximately $16-million in December,” the agency’s international trade report says.
The data Statscan receive do not break down the per-unit cost for the vaccines, Mr. Carrière said. Nor do they differentiate between vaccines, which were bought at different prices.
On Dec. 30, Major-General Dany Fortin said 424,150 vaccine doses would be delivered in December. That would mean the government paid an average of about $38 per dose. Canada received deliveries from Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech in December. The two companies have different prices for their shots. The federal government has not said what the price difference is for Canada’s doses.
The data agency did not consult the procurement department on its $16-million cost estimate before releasing it.
Based on the average cost per dose, it appears Canada paid more than the European Union or the U.S. for those first shipments.
For example, information released by the U.S. government on Dec. 23 showed it was paying $24.80 per Pfizer dose, after converting into Canadian dollars. And Forbes reported that the U.S. is paying $35 per shot for the Moderna vaccine.
The European Union has also kept its vaccine prices confidential, but the curtain was accidentally lifted when a Belgian politician tweeted a price chart and then deleted it. According to that chart, published by Belgian newspaper Het Laatste Nieuws, the EU paid $22.91 per dose from Moderna and $18.47 per dose from Pfizer.
“We are paying fair value for our vaccines,” Ms. Anand said in response to a question from Conservative MP Michelle Rempel Garner about the Statscan data. “When I say fair value, that means comparable prices – to my knowledge. Of course, I don’t know exactly what all other jurisdictions are paying,” Ms. Anand added.
Chris Maloney, the chief of Statscan’s International Accounts and Trade Division, said some assumptions regarding shipments were required.
“While we are confident that we have taken a reasonable approach, the possibility remains that we don’t have it quite right,” he said. “This was our first month receiving data for these shipments, and we haven’t been able to check our figure against other sources of information that may become available.”
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