Tuesday, December 01, 2020

Ignore the Conservatives, Canada is well-placed for COVID vaccines

Well, go figure. Federal Conservative leader Erin O' Toole, Ontario's Conservative Premier Doug Ford and Alberta Premier Jason Kenney (oh, look, another Conservative!) are all publicly tearing strips off Justin Trudeau and his Liberal government for poor management of Canada's coronavirus vaccine procurement.

I guess that's what opposition parties are supposed to do: they oppose, loudly, on principle, and regardless of the importance of their quibbles or the probity of their arguments. It's boring, especially during a crisis that would benefit from a bit of national unity, but it's party politics.

There have been outraged (and highly partisan) complaints that Canada put "all our eggs in the basket of China" by backing the joint CanSino vaccine initiative, which fizzled out mainly due to, you guessed it, politics. Furthermore, there have been attempts to suggest that Canada is at the "back of the line" for vaccine imports from the USA and UK. Either way, it is all Justin Trudeau's fault, and "hard-working Canadians" will suffer as a result of his ineptitude.

Except, unfortunately, neither of those claims appear to be true. What? Conservative fake news? Surely not!

Canada has clearly not put all its eggs in the Chinese basket, because we have contracts for 429 million vaccine doses from seven major international pharmaceutical companies. This is "the most doses potentially per capita of any country in the world", apparently, and, in this age of diversity, "the most diverse portfolio of any country for vaccines". These include the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines which will probably be the first, and possibly best, to hit the market. The government has committed over $1 billion to this end. 

And, as for being at the back of the line, Moderna's chairman and co-founder recently came out publicly to explicitly explain that, "Canada is not at the back of the line", and that Canada was in fact among the first countries to make a pre-order with the company. We are actually very well placed as regards the vaccines. Moreover, the necessary work towards Health Canada approval of the vaccines is progressing in the background even before they are legally released, so that delays should be minimal. Although, frankly, who's to say that we should be at the front of the line anyway?

Arguably, Canada should perhaps be in the vaccine production business, not just importing them, but our attempt to do so (with CanSino) was unsuccessful. Our lack of production facilities can be laid at least as much with the science cuts of the Harper years as with anything Justin Trudeau has or has not done. In the scheme of things, we are a relatively small country, and it is kind of difficult to justify having under-utilized top-of-the-line vaccine production capacity for decades on end just on the off-chance a pandemic should come along. (Actually, Canada can, and does, make vaccines, just not ones that can be used against COVID-19).

All in all, Canada is in a very good position vis-a-vis COVID vaccinations, and all those Conservative politicians who are complaining are talking out of their hats based on a poor understanding of the situation, and just looking to score cheap political points. Plus ça change...


The news that the UK has become the first Western country to approve a vaccine (the Pfizer/BioNTech one that Canada also has in its portfolio) has only served to increase the hysteria and sniping from opposition politicians, even though neither the USA nor the EU has yet approved it either (and some, including Dr. Anthony Fauci in the USA, feel the UK has moved TOO quickly - the European Medicines Agency has actually deliberately slowed and delayed its assessment of the Pfizer vaccine, and compare, for example, the much more measured and cautious approach of South Korea). 

All eyes are now on how the UK deals with the logistical aspects of the rollout, and how the general public will tolerate the vaccines. I for one am glad we do not have to deal with that level of international scrutiny. I'm quite happy to move slower and benefit from the (good or bad) experience of others. 

And I think we should also be cognizant of the fact that rolling out the vaccine will not be a quick process, for the UK or for any other country. The difference of a few days or even weeks will not, in the scheme of things, make a lot of difference. This is not a race. Let's do this thing properly and cautiously.

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