Don Martin: Made-in-Canada vaccines are coming -- just in time for the next pandemic
OTTAWA -- The headline Prime Minister Justin Trudeau wanted from his news conference Tuesday was one heralding Canada’s return to our glory days as a domestic vaccine producer in the fight against COVID-19.
Right idea. Wrong pandemic.
We will indeed bring back better vaccine production, which is a crucial public health asset to inoculate us against foreign blockades to a coronavirus cure.
But, while it didn’t stop him from trying, Trudeau cannot frame his announcement as part of his oft-repeated plan to vaccinate every willing Canadian by the end of September.
He told reporters the arm-ready rollout of the Novavax made-in-Canada vaccine could happen this summer.
Um, no, said his innovation minister an hour later. The factory won’t be finished until summer and certification could take several months before test production begins. Look for injections before the end of the year, several months after the promised vaccination wrap-up.
This leaves our much-ballyhooed domestic vaccine timetable looking like this: Canada will produce the Novavax vaccine by the end of the year IF it passes clinical trials, IF the factory is finished and certified for production, IF it gets Health Canada’s time-consuming approval and IF, by the time it reaches the injection phase to immunize New Year’s Eve celebrations, there’s any lingering demand for it.
Unless this government’s vaccine timetable is a fanciful fabrication, Canadians should be inoculated, unmasked and filling up restaurants by 2022 with COVID-19 set to join the SARS, H1N1, Asian flu lineup as another deadly bug beaten into submission by the power of science.
It could leave our domestic production era dawning in a world awash with vaccines and Canada with 76 million vials of surplus vaccine to be shipped straight from the factory to stockpiling in refrigerated warehouses.
At least in the U.K., as CTV’s Kevin Gallagher pointed out to a ducked answer by the prime minister, they returned to domestic production very quickly and have now vaccinated 14 per cent of their population to Canada hard-stopped at 2.5 per cent.
So let’s call Trudeau’s big Tuesday news what it is: his shot at redemption for a doomed vaccine partnership with an unreliable and hostile China; a channel-changer from a news cycle focused on increasingly shaky foreign contracts; and perhaps a better shot at winning an election if it’s held before the pandemic winds down.
Meanwhile, we’re stuck in limbo with more orders per capita than any other country on Earth which, unfortunately, has a delivery schedule that’s subject to change without notice. It’s like we've ordered a snowblower in January and we’re being told it could be delivered in July.
Of course, it is entirely (and hopefully) possible Trudeau and his ministers are correct that Pfizer will send along the promised four million doses before April despite the European Union’s protectionist sabre-rattling.
Why we’re not on the EU friends list and why there’s nothing in writing to guarantee the timely arrival of vaccines which could save tens of thousands of Canadian lives is a good question with no clear answer from the prime minister.
But one thing Trudeau clearly knows for sure is that his political fate is in the hands of ensuring the Canadian vaccination pace keeps up with the other G7 countries.
If Canadians are delayed and die waiting for their shot at normal life while U.S., British and Europeans case-counts free-fall in tandem with mass vaccinations, Trudeau is a dead prime minister walking.
But if he delivers on his September promise, with or without a domestic source of vaccine, it’ll be like Canadians getting a rush while riding a major Disney World attraction after a two-hour lineup.
They'll immediately forget about the wait – and line up behind Trudeau again.
That's the bottom line.