'We can't be choosers': Why Canada 'made it's bed' and could never be first in line for a COVID-19 vaccine
Canada wasn't at the forefront of a coronavirus vaccine, but Canadians didn't have to wait too long to finally get access despite lacking production capacity.
"Canada is not at the bottom," said Noubar Afeyan, co-founder and chairman of Moderna at Rosemary Barton Live at CBC a few weeks ago.
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The Canadian government signed procurement deals in August when the viability of the vaccine was relatively unknown. This appears to be a risk that, according to the chairman of Moderna, now seems to be paying off.
"The people who were willing to move early with even less evidence of effectiveness secured the amount of offer they were willing to sign up for," Afeyan said.
Why couldn't Canada be the first?
After some doses of vaccine arrived, some of the conversation shifted from arrival time to Canada's limited manufacturing capacity when it comes to making vaccines. It began with the privatization efforts of former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, whose government sold Connaught Labs in 1986.
"Thirty years ago we were pretty good, Connaught Labs was our biggest producer - we were world class," said Dr. Earl Brown, an expert in virology and microbiology at the University of Ottawa.
Why should you take the vaccine even if you've had COVID-19?
The specialist in infectious diseases, Dr. Sumon Chakrabarti says that even those with COVID-19 should consider getting the vaccine as it will boost your immunity, and likely for a longer period of time. Ultimately, the vaccine’s value is also in reducing the COVID-19 numbers across the country and reducing the impact of the pandemic around the world.
The sale of Connaught Labs and the failure of course correction with the appearance of SARS-CoV, H1N1 or HIV have been looming in Canada for decades and are now being reported during the pandemic. As a result, the Trudeau government has to rely on buying vaccines from seven different countries and has received 414 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines.
"None of the proposed vaccines can be made in large quantities in Canada because we simply don't have manufacturing facilities in Canada," Brown said.
The National Research Council is to be retrofitted to produce smaller doses of the coronavirus vaccine that would require approval. However, construction has been delayed by months. Much of the technology in Canada isn't geared towards synthetic vaccines, according to Brown, so new developments must be ready to work on them as they invest in vaccine production.
“We need to have a vaccine platform. We have to build something on the ground, but we have to be careful. We're not waging today's war with yesterday's weapons, ”he said.
In April 2010, the Conservative Party of Canada decided to shut down a pilot plant for HIV vaccines valued at $ 88 million. The Winnipeg International Center for Infectious Diseases had been named a successful offering the year before, but before shovels could get into the ground, the project was dead and gone.
At the time, the Canadian Public Health Department (PHAC) officials cited a lack of scientific, technical and sustainability criteria set out in the call for proposals from all bidders and believed they had found the ability to apply the vaccine manufacture elsewhere.
“You make your bed, you live in it, you sleep in it, and there are no vaccine companies in Canada. So that's it, ”said Brown.
Complacency rules the day
Not only did Canada make the wrong decision when it came to manufacturing vaccines in 2010, but in previous decades Brown pointed to a lack of funding for research in the field. He noted that emerging viruses were complacent and no one expected us to live in a pandemic of this magnitude.
“I think we felt very complacent about infectious diseases. We think if a problem arises we can fix it, but problems don't tell you how fast or how big they will be, ”he said.
That attitude seems to be changing, however, and Brown believes that it is needed, especially as infectious disease specialists predict more viral outbreaks will occur in the years to come.
"We're going to live a little longer here in the age of emerging diseases and we have to be ready to fight them," he said.
Coronavirus: Trudeau outlines efforts to distribute COVID-19 vaccines, named Maj.-Gen. Dany Fortin leads the logistics and operations of vaccines
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced on Friday that Canada, with the support of the Canadian Armed Forces, would establish a "national operations center" to coordinate "the logistics and distribution" of COVID-19 vaccines and appointed major general. Dany Fortin heads the center’s logistics and operations.
While conservatives and liberals alike point out why Canada was not number one in the pecking order on a vaccine, Brown is quick to remind them that being in the first group is a big win.
“We want to be able to get the vaccine to Canada on time. Whether we're 1st, 2nd, or 10th, we're pretty close. We can't be a choice, ”said Brown.
In all fairness, some of the attitudes toward Canada that deserve and want to be first shocked Brown, who points to Canada's desire to balance the budget while sacrificing investments in public health, microbiological research and manufacturing facilities.
"We did the purposeful that saved nickels and dime in the past, but now we have a pandemic. Don't ask other people to fix our problems, be a little more stoic and maybe a little more humble," Brown said.
What Can Canada Do To Get Better In Another Health Crisis?
While the Canadian government has promised to increase its investment in public health, Brown admits that he would like the same for medical health research and manufacturing facilities. He said that providing all public health resources alone would not solve any problems. Canada has great scientists, and now it's time to motivate them to stay home.
“We have great science in this country. We have people who know what to do, we know how to activate them, now we have to organize them, ”said Brown.
While it has been a long time since Canada made large investments, Brown believes it is clear today that the Trudeau administration should invest in vaccine manufacturing facilities.
“It is clear that Canada needs to invest in vaccine production, much like it should invest in public health. I think we should have the ability to produce vaccines. We should have the infrastructure to make vaccines on the fly, ”Brown said.
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