Thursday, February 04, 2021

Canada's domestic vaccine production finally shows some promise, just not soon

And while we are on the subject of vaccines - and what other subject is there right now? - the Liberal government is making a big deal of the news that Canada is to have its own production facilities in Montreal to manufacture the Novavax vaccine, belatedly securing a domestic COVID-19 vaccines. even as our imports of pre-ordered vaccines grind to a halt and recriminations on all sides abound.

Minor caveat: the Novavax vaccine is not yet approved for use in Canada, and the National Research Council-owned facility (not even fully built yet!) will not be churning out doses until the end of the year at the earliest, well after the government's September deadline for all Canadians to be vaccinated. The building work is expected to be complete by the summer, but approvals and certifications and paperwork could well take several months more. Ultimately, the facility is expected to be able to produce up to 2 million doses a month.

Too little, too late, as opposition politicians assert? Maybe, but I have a suspicion that we may well be still looking for vaccine doses by that time. And then, of course, there's always the next pandemic, and the next...

What I don't really understand is why this idea of licencing production facilities was not thought about a year ago? Well, arguably, it was, and the Montreal facility was originally being built for the ill-fated CanSino vaccine, and it ran afoul of "good manufacturing practices" requirements, and encountered delay after delay.

As for the other vaccine manufacturers, Procurement Minister Anita Anand has confirmed that the government did in fact strenuously and repeatedly raise the issue of domestic manufacture, and all of them refused to allow Canada to manufacture their products here under license, due to the state of our "biomanufacturing capability".

As usual, Canada is being compared (unfavourably) with Australia, which has an agreement to produce the AstraZeneca vaccine, starting sometime this spring (as has Japan). Canada apparently passed on domestic manufacturing rights for the AstraZeneca product. But, hey, Australia has hardly even started vaccinations. Not that they really need it, with six new cases a day to deal with!

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