Canada on 'solid footing' in negotiations for more AstraZeneca vaccines from U.S.: Anand
OTTAWA -- Procurement Minister Anita Anand says she is in continuous communication with her American counterparts about securing more doses of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine manufactured in the U.S., following an initial loan of 1.5 million.
In an interview with CTV’s Question Period airing Sunday, Anand said the government is on “solid footing” in the ongoing negotiations.
“We are continuously engaged at all levels. Of course the prime minister and president Biden, I'm in touch constantly with Jeff Zients, and our ambassador Kristen Hillman and her team are continuously involved with the United States on this issue and the broader issue of potential sharing of doses,” she told host Evan Solomon.
Canada has purchased 20 million AstraZeneca doses that are expected to come from a U.S. plant, but so far none have been shipped. Canada has a contract for two million doses from the Serum Institute in India, 500,000 of which have been sent to Canada, with the rest delayed as India deals with a crushing flood in new cases. Canada also has secured access to another 1.9 million from COVAX, a global vaccine sharing network designed to assist mostly middle to low-income countries. So far, 300,000 of these doses have arrived.
In late March, the Biden administration granted an early shipment of doses to Canada and Mexico under a loan agreement.
The AstraZeneca vaccine has not yet been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration but the regulatory agencies in Canada and Mexico have given it the green light.
On Wednesday, U.S. President Joe Biden hinted another shipment could be on its way to Canada after a meeting with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
“We’re looking at what is going to be done with some of the vaccines that we are not using. We want to make sure they are safe to be sent and we hope to be able to be of some help and value to countries around the world,” said Biden in a press briefing.
“We’ve talked to our neighbours. Matter of fact, a fella who’s working really hard … the Prime Minister of Canada. We helped a little bit there. We’re going to try to help some more.”
Reports have surfaced in the New York Times about chronic problems at a Baltimore plant run by Emergent BioSolutions, where both AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson doses were being manufactured.
Emergent announced earlier this month that 15 million doses of the latter were ruined by cross-contamination — a development that prompted the White House to put J&J in charge of the facility.
The Times also pointed to shortcomings in basic quality control at the Baltimore plant, including disinfection and contamination protocols that fell short of industry standards, despite a US$163-million cash injection from the federal government.
On CTV’s Question Period, Anand said she spoke with AstraZeneca upon hearing the news and was reassured Canada’s batch wasn’t impacted.
“When we were made aware of the issue relating to the plant, we immediately contacted our supplier and the supplier assured us that stringent quality control had occurred and that none of the doses that Canada received were affected by the issues at the plant,” she said.
While Canada’s AstraZeneca shipments are facing uncertainties, the procurement minister pointed to Pfizer as the “workhorse” of the government’s vaccine portfolio.
“My point from a procurement standpoint, is simply that 60 per cent of our procurements or thereabouts right now are from one very reliable supplier: Pfizer,” she said, adding that given the expected surge of deliveries arriving in May in June – two million a week in the former and 2.5 million a week in the latter – it would be “useful” for provinces to think about expanding access to that vaccine.
“It makes sense to think about alternative additional means by which this vaccine can be administered.”
With a file from CTV News’ Rachel Aiello & The Canadian Press.