A small dose of normalcy in Canada

Let’s take the high road, skip the blame game, stop the juvenile finger pointing and find some solutions to Canada’s lack of vaccine production

Michael TaubeWhen Moderna, Pfizer and AstraZeneca announced successful drug trials with their respective COVID-19 vaccine candidates, many people were euphoric. It wouldn’t signal the end of the coronavirus pandemic but it would be a positive sign that we’re gradually getting to this stage.

Many countries around the world pre-purchased millions of vaccine vials or doses. Some can be stored in normal refrigerated systems, like the vaccine from Moderna. Special freezers set at -70C are needed to store Pfizer’s vaccine, which also requires an individual to receive two doses within 28 days.

Canada was among the nations that pre-purchased vaccines.

Most of us hoped they would arrive in short order – until mixed messaging from the federal and provincial governments started to occur, that is.

The drugs would start rolling out in 2020, we were told. Well, some would be available before the end of 2020. No, make that early spring 2021. Hold on, let’s change that to fall 2021.

Anyone for 2022? Anyone?

It was impossible to figure out what was going on for a few weeks. For instance, the Ontario and federal governments briefly bantered back and forth about how many doses of the vaccines were actually ordered. The opposition parties wanted to look at the federal government’s contracts to figure out the start dates and the window for arrival of the vaccines, even if they were just estimates.

Then the finger pointing started when more Canadians became aware that our country was well behind with respect to drug productivity.

Here’s the most egregious example.

On Nov. 25, CTV Power Play host Evan Solomon asked Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc whether Canada, like other countries, was going to domestically produce the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine. He skirted around the issue, saying “that company’s manufacturing facility closed in the 2007 to 2011 period when Mr. Harper was prime minister.”

It didn’t stop there.

“Many of the biomanufacturing companies that had significant facilities in Canada, like AstraZeneca, like GSK, like Johnson & Johnson, closed their facilities in Canada during the Harper years,” said LeBlanc. “So that capacity doesn’t exist in Canada now.”

Really? That’s the best excuse he could come up with?

Here’s a newsflash: Stephen Harper hasn’t been in power since 2015. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has led our country for five years. If the current PM was really that concerned about the diminished presence of biomanufacturing companies in Canada, he’s had plenty of time to work on this file and readjust some or all of these matters. LeBlanc, a trusted minister and childhood friend to Trudeau, could have done something, too.

Guess what?

They didn’t.

Truth be told, it’s easy to blame Trudeau or Harper for this unfortunate situation. Several other prime ministers – including Jean Chretien, Paul Martin and Brian Mulroney – could be included in these discussions.

But in fairness, no one could have predicted the arrival of a global health pandemic of this magnitude. Let’s take the high road, skip the blame game, stop the juvenile finger pointing and find some solutions.

And then on Monday, an announcement was made about the arrival of the first shipment of vaccine.

Canada will apparently receive a shipment of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine this month. According to Public Services and Procurement Canada’s press release, we “will receive up to 249,000 doses … contingent on Health Canada authorization of the vaccine.” This is part of the “up to 76 million doses Canada has secured through its existing agreement with Pfizer.”

Dr. David Jacobs, vice-president of the Ontario Association of Radiologists, tweeted on Dec. 7, “249,000 doses covers 0.36% of the population. Not really herd immunity levels of protection.”

No, it isn’t.

And Pfizer’s vaccine program requires two doses, which would mean only 124,500 Canadians end up being fully vaccinated. Unless the plan is to match the first vaccine shipment with a second one, of course, but that’s unclear in the press release.

When you put it all together, a very small number of vaccines will head to Canada in 2020. Far smaller than some of our allies will receive. But it’s a starting point and will hopefully create a small dose of normalcy in Canada.

That’s better than the alternative, right?

Michael Taube, a Troy Media syndicated columnist and Washington Times contributor, was a speechwriter for former prime minister Stephen Harper. He holds a master’s degree in comparative politics from the London School of Economics.

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