Canada will have vaccine booster supply if NACI recommends wider usage: PM
OTTAWA -- As the federal government awaits new advice on prioritizing COVID-19 booster shots in light of concerns over the Omicron variant, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says that should the call come to expand access, the supply will be there.
On Tuesday, Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos announced that the federal government has asked the National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) to quickly provide an update on its directives on the use of COVID-19 vaccine boosters in light of the new variant of concern.
Trudeau told reporters Wednesday morning on his way into a caucus meeting that should NACI recommend expanding eligibility for a third dose, the supply will be there.
“There is not an issue about quantity of vaccines. We have lots of vaccines for boosters in Canada, we're receiving more into the new year. We are fine in terms of quantity, the issue is what is the best recommendation for people to get those boosters and when,” Trudeau said.
It remains unclear just how transmissible and severe infection by the variant B.1.1.529 might be, but because Omicron is highly mutated health officials have expressed concerns that it may be more vaccine resistant.
Health Canada has approved the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna mRNA vaccines as boosters for anyone 18 and older, at least six months after the primary vaccine course.
As things stand, NACI’s booster guidance states that provinces should be offering boosters to anyone aged 70 and up; those who received two doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine or one dose of the Janssen vaccine; certain immunocompromised individuals; and adults in First Nations, Inuit and Métis communities.
Front-line health-care workers who have direct in-person contact with patients and who were originally vaccinated within a short time interval are also recommended for boosters.
Provinces and territories, which are responsible for vaccine programs, have adopted their own booster rollout plans based on this guidance.
The discussion over whether or not Canada should be offering third doses to healthy adults is playing out alongside suggestions that the government should be prioritizing sending doses to other nations who do not have the kind of access that Canada does, to potentially help prevent further mutations of the virus that has now been circulating the world for nearly two years.
Through global vaccine-sharing initiative COVAX, Canada has promised to donate 200 million doses by the end of 2022, though so far approximately 8.3 million doses have been donated.
Asked why Canada’s international COVID-19 vaccine contributions remain so far off their target, International Development Minister Harjit Sajjan cited a range of factors, including some nations’ ability to accept, store and administer vaccines as well as vaccine hesitancy.
“Canadians will be looked after for the third dose, but having said this, we will be working together with the rest of the world and Canada will do its part and we will constantly review where we can provide that support,” he said Wednesday in Ottawa.
The NDP continue to call for the government to support a global initiative to temporarily waive intellectual property restrictions on COVID-19 vaccines.
“Justin Trudeau needs to stop protecting the profits of pharmaceuticals and start standing up for countries with less resources and say that they should have the ability to produce the vaccines locally. That is the most important tool in fighting this pandemic. it is a global pandemic, which means we need to fight it globally,” said NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh during a press conference in Ottawa on Wednesday.
Canada’s Ambassador to the United Nations, Bob Rae said it’s possible for the government to both provide necessary vaccines in Canada, without jeopardizing the health and safety of Canadians, and support countries abroad in their fight to secure supply.
“Every government has an obligation to its own electorate to ensure that they’re vaccinated. We also have an obligation to share and to do whatever we can to increase production,” Rae said during an interview on CTV News Channel’s Power Play on Wednesday.
He added that there’s no sense in supporting the waiving of vaccine patents if there isn’t the technological resources in lower-income countries to develop the product.
“You can waive a patent but if you don’t have the technological transfer to go along with that, than you haven’t made as much progress as you’d think,” he said.