Feds strike deal with pharmaceutical firms for millions of doses of COVID-19 vaccine
OTTAWA -- The federal government is partnering with biopharmaceutical and biotechnology giants Pfizer and Moderna to help secure millions of vaccine doses to be ready for distribution across Canada in 2021.
Procurement Minister Anita Anand said on Wednesday that the deal with the two multinational corporations will help position Canada at the front of the line when a vaccine is made available.
"Pfizer is evaluating at least four experimental vaccine candidates and is currently undergoing clinical trials. These trials are occurring in various countries including Germany and the United States and they’re already exhibiting promising results," said Anand during a press conference in Toronto on Wednesday.
The minister didn’t provide detail on how many doses would be developed, or the exact dollar amount of the contract, pointing to ongoing, sensitive negotiations with other suppliers. Pfizer and Moderna’s candidates will require Health Canada approval.
"We have to remember that these suppliers are at various stages of vaccine development. It is important for Canadians to know that we are taking an approach to contractual negations that builds in flexibility for us to be able to increase orders," Anand said.
"In the weeks to come, I will hope to be disclosing further information."
There are currently 55 potential COVID-19 drugs, including vaccine candidates, that are currently being investigated in clinical trials authorized by Health Canada.
To be approved for use, any potential vaccine must move through a well-established testing process that involves three phases of human trials. The first and second phases focus on monitoring whether the drug produces the desired response from the human immune system. The third phase involves far more test subjects and aims to determine whether the vaccine candidate is actually able to stop the virus from infecting a body.
Moderna was among the first to develop a vaccine candidate – it was shipped to the U.S. government in February and human testing began in March. The company has said that mRNA-1273 is able to stop the spread of the novel coronavirus in a lab setting, and 30,000 volunteers were given the potential vaccine starting July 27 as part of the final phase of human trials.
Pfizer doses were given to human test subjects in Germany in April and in the U.S. in May. Company CEO Albert Bourla said a few weeks later that one vaccine candidate could be ready by October "if things go well, and the stars are aligned." Phase III trials began in late July.
Innovation Minister Navdeep Bains, who joined Anand for the announcement Wednesday, underlined the government’s efforts to diversify therapies, which he said will addressed at one of two task forces the Liberals have established.
"Until we immunize all Canadians, we must also focus on producing treatments for those who contract the virus," he said. "[The task force] will be co-chaired by Nancy Harrison, director and past-chair of LifeSciences B.C. and Cedric Bisson, partner at Teralys Capital."
Bains also announced $56 million to bolster vaccine development in Canada through Variation Biotechnologies Inc. (VBI).
"Through the Strategic Innovation Fund the government will support VBI’s work on preclinical studies and clinical trials. More investments will follow," he said.
Both Bains and Anand said they will be working closely with Health Minister Patty Hajdu and Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam on a vaccine rollout plan, which will include decision-making on whether to make vaccination mandatory or voluntary.
On Tuesday, Tam tried to temper expectations that development of a vaccine would mean the coronavirus threat disappears.
"We're planning, as a public health community, that we're going to have to manage this pandemic certainly over the next year, but certainly it may be planning for the longer term on the next two to three years during which the vaccine may play a role. But we don't know yet," Tam told reporters during a routine COVID-19 press briefing.
Deputy Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Howard Njoo said a vaccine won’t act as a "silver bullet."
Anand echoed her colleagues’ comments on Wednesday, stating there is no single solution that will transition Canadians entirely out of the pandemic.
"Multiple efforts on multiple fronts must be made and followed," she said. "We all want a silver bullet but unfortunately that’s not the case. So the approach of the Government of Canada and particularly us in contracting has been to say, 'Look, we need multiple contracts over multiple periods of time,'" she said.
Infectious disease specialist Dr. Isaac Bogoch told CTV News Channel the announcement signals the government is taking an aggressive and proactive approach to the recovery stage of the pandemic.
"The other interesting thing that Canada is doing is we’ve already purchased 37 million vials to administer a vaccine that we don’t even have just yet so you can just see them taking the steps to really reduce the time from having a successful vaccine trial and approval from health regulatory bodies to administering the vaccine to the population," he said.
In mid-July the government announced it was ordering more than 75 million syringes, alcohol swabs, and bandages to prepare for an eventual vaccine.
Bogoch added that he suspects health officials to prioritize vaccinating Canadians at greatest risk of contracting the virus, like those in long-term care facilities or those in congregate settings, and those who are likely to experience the virus most severely.
With files from CTV News’ Rachel Aiello and Ryan Flanagan