The federal government has signed a deal to secure up to 26,000 doses of a COVID-19 therapeutic drug from Eli Lilly, with the option to receive thousands more, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced Tuesday.
He also sought to temper Canadians’ expectations around the timing and rollout of an eventual vaccine or vaccines to immunize against the novel coronavirus.
“To keep Canadians safe, we need access to as many potential vaccines and treatments as possible,” Trudeau said during his Rideau Cottage address on Tuesday.
Trudeau said that, while there has been promising news about some vaccine candidates that Canada will receive millions of doses of, it will still be months before vaccines are expected to arrive on Canadian soil.
The prime minister has previously said that Canada is expecting initial doses — to be distributed on a priority basis — in the early months of 2021 once granted approval by Health Canada, but several other nations are making plans to begin administering vaccines next month.
Among the promising candidates so far are Pfizer, Moderna, and AstraZeneca, all of which Canada has begun the domestic approval process for. However, Trudeau said that because it’s been years since Canada’s had domestic production capacity for vaccines, the countries where these pharmaceutical companies are based will “obviously” prioritize vaccinating their citizens before shipping doses internationally.
As a result, the federal government is working with the dates vaccine companies are providing them.
“We have reached out and have actually one of the very best vaccine portfolios of any country around the world with far more doses for Canadians, potentially then we actually have Canadian population. That's because we don't know which vaccines are going to be most effective, which ones are going to arrive early, but we have done everything we can to ensure that Canadians get these vaccines as quickly as possible,” Trudeau said, acknowledging Canada is at a “disadvantage,” because it is relying on other nations.
“But it is premature to start, you know, crossing out [or] circling dates on a calendar or saying that ‘this vaccine is going to arrive in this amount, on this day, in this community,’ because there's still a lot of work to do between now and then, but we're on it,” he said.
The prime minister said that Canada has begun funding domestic vaccine production capacity because “we never want to be caught short again,” but it will take “years” to get in place and likely won’t help Canada’s COVID-19 vaccine situation, but will be in place should there be future pandemics.
Updating on the status of the logistical planning, Procurement Minister Anita Anand said that the federal government has signed contracts for freezers capable of storing vaccines. To-date the government has the capacity to store up to 33.5 million vaccines at cold temperatures and enough needles and syringes to administer 24 million doses with more en route. By next week, Anand said she expects contracts will be awarded to provide the government with dry ice as well as end-to-end distribution to assist in the transportation of these vaccines.
The government says it’s keeping a close eye on the approval processes for vaccines in allied countries, but isn’t expected to fast-track authorization until the domestic evaluation is complete, which Trudeau said is being done to assure Canadians the vaccines are safe, in hopes that’ll encourage the maximum number of people get immunized.
Logistical planning about the rollout is underway, but details remain sparse other than the military likely playing a role and all provinces and territories needing to provide input. Trudeau said Tuesday, the federal Liberals will have more to share once the “mobilization plan” is “up and running.”
Former head of the Canadian Armed Forces Rick Hillier, who is leading Ontario’s COVID-19 vaccine distribution task force, said in an interview on CTV’s Power Play on Tuesday that he is meeting with current Chief of Defence Staff Jonathan Vance within the next few days to touch base on how the military is already making preparations.
Hillier said efficiency will be key, given the need to get the vaccines out to those who need them as soon as they arrive in Canada, which isn’t expected to be until after Health Canada has approved them.
EMERGENCY THERAPY APPROVED
Over the weekend, Health Canada authorized the monoclonal antibody therapy for emergency use in helping treat COVID-19 infections, and Canada will begin receiving doses over the next three months.
The single antibody treatment called bamlanivimab has been approved for use in adults and children aged 12 or older with mild to moderate coronavirus infections.
Lilly says the treatment is for those who risk progressing to severe COVID-19 symptoms or hospitalization. It is not authorized for patients who are already hospitalized or require oxygen.
Bamlanivimab is the first monoclonal antibody to be authorized for use in treating the novel coronavirus and was granted emergency-use by the Food and Drug Administration in the U.S. at the beginning of November.
The antibody therapy, which must be infused in a hospital or other health-care setting, was developed in partnership with the Canadian biotech company AbCellera, which the federal government has provided funded to over the course of the pandemic.
“To the scientists and researchers across the country: Thank you for everything that you do. Just like always, your dedication and expertise is making Canadians heathier and safer, and is building a better tomorrow. Canada is lucky to have thousands of world-class scientists and researchers,” said Trudeau.
Health Canada granted authorization for Lilly’s antibody therapy under Section 3 of the federal government's Interim Order Respecting the Importation, Sale and Advertising of Drugs for Use in Relation to COVID-19.
With files from CTV News’ Brooklyn Neustaeter