Canada should invest in facilities to make vaccines for next pandemic, says Moderna co-founder
TORONTO -- Canada should prepare for the next pandemic by investing in the necessary infrastructure to be able to produce vaccines domestically, says Canadian stem cell biologist and Moderna co-founder, Derrick Rossi.
“Setting up manufacturing facilities for these technologies that are new, but clearly the way forward for vaccines,” Rossi told CTV News Channel on Thursday.
“I would continue to strongly urge the Canadian government, and the provincial government of Ontario to invest in that.”
Rossi, who helped develop the mRNA technology being used in COVID-19 vaccines, says he has been talking to both levels of government to encourage and advise them on what they can do, “so that when -- not if -- the next pandemic hits us, hits Canada, the globe, how they might be more prepared in terms of manufacturing.”
Canada’s primary vaccine efforts have been focused on procuring a broad range of vaccine candidates around the world. With more than 400 million vaccine doses secured from multiple manufacturers, Canada has one of the largest vaccine procurements per capita in the world. Despite its efforts, Canada has fallen sharply behind other developed countries in its vaccination efforts.
Earlier this year, production delays by Moderna, Pfizer and BioNTech resulted in shipment delays that severely hampered Canada’s vaccination efforts. As of Thursday, just over three per cent of the Canadian population has received at least one dose. Israel in contrast, has vaccinated the majority of its population.
Moderna has promised to deliver 1.3 million doses to Canada in March.
Ottawa has invested more than $126 million to build a new biomanufacturing facility in Montreal to help produce vaccine candidates for emergency use. The site remains under construction and is expected to be completed by July, with any production likely to start after that.
Another facility in Montreal is being upgraded to help produce vaccines, but it also remains under construction. The government says that, conservatively, the facility could produce 250,000 doses per month depending on the vaccine's specifications.
“Basically the bottleneck is manufacturing. It's new technology. Producing enough doses to give to the entire planet is, you know, a Herculean task. We're talking many billions of doses,” Rossi said.
“The good news is that they're multiple different vaccines … that are going to come online, that the combined resources of all these companies should have most of the population of the planet vaccinated hopefully by the end of this year into the first quarter of next year.”
Rossi is not alone in urging the federal government to ensure Canada has its own domestic manufacturing capabilities. A member of Canada’s COVID-19 Task Force voiced a similar view in an interview with the Canadian Press last month, adding that the new variants of the virus would likely mean Canadians will need multiple vaccines in the coming years.
“Zoonosis, the process by which pathogens leap from one organism to another is a pretty regular occurrence in biology. It happens with reasonable regularity that viruses pass into humans -- MERS, SARS, SARS-CoV-2 now, and others -- and we have the... ‘disadvantage’ if you will, that we’re so interconnected globally,” Rossi said.
“Biology can throw curve balls at us all the time and we just have to realize that there’s only so much planning and forethought that can be done.”
This is why vaccine manufacturing is key, Rossi said. He points to the number of doses Moderna and Pfizer have promised this year -- over a billion each -- but says if facilities were ready to go around the world so that a billion doses could be deployed in a month, for example, the world could quickly get a pandemic under control before hundreds of millions of people are infected globally and millions are dead.
“This will happen again there's no question about it, so preparedness both in terms of hardcore virology -- studying viruses of the animal kingdom that are most likely to make the leap --… but certainly the manufacturing capacity,” he said.
“I’d love to see Canada have manufacturing facilities in-country that they can then prepare vaccines for the next pandemic.”
With files from CTVNews.ca writer Graham Slaughter