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Justin Trudeau, Prime Minister of Canada

Canada on way to making COVID-19 vaccines

Tuesday, February 02, 2021 @ 4:26 PM | By Terry Davidson


Ottawa has inked a tentative deal with a drug company to produce a made-in-Canada COVID-19 vaccine, but actual production may not begin until closer to the end of this year.

In a Feb. 2 address to the nation, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that his Liberal government has signed a memorandum of understanding with U.S.-based Novavax to produce a vaccine in a Montreal manufacturing facility, which is currently under construction.  

 Prime Minister Justin Trudeau

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau

According to a news release, Ottawa has an agreement with Novavax to buy up to 76 million doses, which would be produced at the National Research Council’s new Biologics Manufacturing Centre (BMC).

Trudeau said once the facility is completed and has Health Canada approval, it will be able to produce around two million doses per month.

“Pending … approval, tens of millions of Novavax COVID-19 doses will be made right here at home,” said Trudeau, who stressed the need for the availability of domestic vaccines.

He also referenced the recent delays Canada has been experiencing in the delivery of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines.  

“We won’t rest until every Canadian who wants a vaccine has received one. Now, this is no small task, and we knew there would be some hurdles along the way with unpredictability and increased demand for production. That’s why we created a smart proactive plan on vaccines and vaccine rollout. It’s why we secured as many options as possible with hundreds of millions of doses from companies around the world. And it’s why we invested in vaccine development and manufacturing here at home.”

Novavax has reportedly stated its vaccine has an efficacy rate of just over 89 per cent in clinical trials and will provide protection against the variant strain of COVID-19 that was first reported in the U.K.

Trudeau was asked to provide a specific timeline as to when Novavax would be able to start production. The prime minister said federal ministers at a press conference following his would be better able to give specifics.

“I think the ministers who are up after will be able to speak more to it, but my understanding is that the production facility should be completed this summer, and once [Health Canada] certification is made, we should then be able to start producing vaccines here in Canada reasonably quickly after that,” Trudeau said.

Despite the Pfizer and Moderna delays, Trudeau continues to maintain that the goal is to have a COVID-19 vaccine available to all Canadians by September. Trudeau was asked what role the Novavax vaccine would play in the country’s overall vaccination plans, given that it may not even begin production until around that time.

“Our initial plan on vaccines was to sign as many different contracts with as many different potential producers of vaccines as possible. … And we all hope that that is all that we’re going to need, but as we see new variants rising, as we see a virus that will continue to be present in many places around the world, we don’t know what the future looks like for a year from now, two years from now, three years from now. What we’re very clear on is Canada will be developing domestic manufacturing so regardless of what could happen in the future, we will have domestic production on top of all of our partnerships and contracts signed with companies around the world.”

At that subsequent press conference, Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry François-Philippe Champagne said construction of the BMC facility should be completed by the end of the summer.

But then comes all the needed approvals from Health Canada.

“We expect by the end of the year to be in a position to be producing vaccines. … So, end of construction towards the end of the summer, then there’s a couple of months to obtain the certification from Health Canada, and then we would be live to producing the Novavax vaccine.”

As for vaccines coming into Canada, Trudeau was asked about recent export controls put in place by the European Union and if they could potentially impact deliveries.

“In my conversations with the EU Commission president, Ursula von der Leyen, she highlighted the need for greater transparency on vaccine production, to make sure that things are being fair. … Our focus is on ensuring the contracts that we’ve signed with Pfizer and with Moderna in particular continue to be respected. And the assurance … that I’ve received, the assurances that this government has received, is that these transparency measures will not interfere with shipments destined for Canada.”

Trudeau was asked if he had that in writing.

“International affairs and agreements between nations are based an awful lot on firm commitments made in conversations and shared publicly,” he said. “It’s not like a small claims court where you can show a document. The conversations I had with the president of the European Commission were enough to reassure me and should be enough to reassure all Canadians that the [EU] is extremely mindful that Canada’s contracts be respected and that our supply of vaccines not be interfered with.”

Trudeau also said Vancouver’s Precision NanoSystems was “on track” to start manufacturing vaccines. According to the news release, Ottawa is investing up to $25.1 million to help Precision to “expand our ability to produce ribonucleic acid vaccines and future genetic medicines in Canada.”

If you have any information, story ideas or news tips for The Lawyer’s Daily, please contact Terry Davidson at t.davidson@lexisnexis.ca or call 905-415-5899.