Despite dose delivery confusion, feds say Canada-wide collaboration 'essential'
OTTAWA -- After a week of confusion around how many doses of vaccines each province and territory will be receiving and when, the federal minister responsible for procurement says it’s crucial the federal government and provinces are on the same page in order to have “an efficient distribution across this country.”
In an interview on CTV’s Question Period, Public Services and Procurement Minister Anita Anand said that despite the back-and-forth seen over the week -- with provinces like Ontario and Alberta staking claim to a specific number of early vaccine doses and the government refusing to confirm those figures -- at the end of the day what will matter is that there’s a cohesive plan all levels of government are on-side with.
While Anand chalked up the uncertainty to provinces “extrapolating” from preliminary discussions being had about the rollout, the Public Health Agency of Canada confirmed to MPs on Friday that the country is on track to receive an initial 6 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines by March 31, but their use depends on regulatory approval.
In a separate interview on this week’s episode, Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc told host Evan Solomon he appreciates the desire to have as much of the plan communicated to the provinces and Canadians as possible, but all the various models lean on hypotheticals and speculation and can’t be carved in stone until some outstanding questions get solved.
“That's why those numbers frankly… aren't reliable yet, but they will be, as we get closer to the point, and we hope that that point comes soon,” he said.
Among the variables still up in the air: Health Canada’s approval, official recommendations on prioritization, and what conditions are needed to keep the approved vaccine or vaccines active as it’s shipped across the country.
“Scientists and doctors in provinces and territories and with the Government of Canada scientists are looking at exactly the most coherent and effective way to vaccinate those populations… So of course, we're not speculating until we have the final advice from the experts, as to how to properly do that,” LeBlanc said.
“All of those measures are coming into place, and all of those measures will be in place when we receive those vaccines,” he said.
Questions of when and how many doses will be shipped to each province, how they will get there remains a key preoccupation for Anand. This week the federal government took its logistics and distribution plans a step further and procured 126 freezers that can store vaccines at very low temperatures.
The government also began looking at contracts for ordering large quantities of dry ice to be used in the delivery process.
“It is essential for the Government of Canada to work with provinces and territories to have that distribution chain [be] effective. Ultimately provinces and territories have the health authorities that will be able to properly put those vaccines into the arms of Canadians, but the Government of Canada has procured the vaccines and the Government of Canada will be in a position with those health authorities to ensure for example the cold chain necessary to deliver them to provinces and territories in a way that they can be expeditiously given to populations in those jurisdictions,” said LeBlanc.
Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister said he largely agrees that having a clear plan across the country will be important, he’s been “urging” for more information to be made public in the process.
“Having a national program so that we don't have a ragtag number of different distribution systems and availability priorities in different jurisdictions is a smart thing to do,” he said. “We can all agree that our most vulnerable people are seniors in care homes, and our frontline workers are the people that we want to be able to get the vaccine quickly so we can keep our healthcare system going and protect the lives of our most vulnerable citizens. But after that, then who gets it first? I think it would be better for us to have a national program we could all understand, accept, and then wait in an orderly manner until it's our turn to get the vaccine rather than seeing a mass scramble confusion and added stress at a time when all of us are incredibly stressed by this unprecedented situation we're facing together.”