The federal government has updated its deal with Moderna to secure the delivery of an additional 20 million doses of its vaccine candidate, and has signed a contract with FedEx Express Canada to handle the shipment of most vaccines within the country.
Procurement Minister Anita Anand announced on Friday that “based on the best scientific data available to date, and on the recommendation of the Public Health Agency of Canada and the vaccine task force,” the government has exercised an option within their existing contract, to lock-in the delivery of more doses of the pharmaceutical giant’s vaccine candidate.
Under the deal, Canada was planning to receive up to 56 million doses of its vaccine candidate, but had specifically locked in 20 million of those. That’s now doubled.
As well, Anand said the federal government has signed contracts with FedEx Express Canada and Innomar Strategies for the “end-to-end, COVID-19 vaccine logistics solution,” which is essentially the shipment and delivery contract to distribute vaccines, with the exception of the Pfizer vaccine as that one requires such cold temperatures that the manufacturer is handling the transport itself.
Explained as part of Canada’s “Track 1” vaccine deployment plan unveiled on Thursday, the Moderna vaccine— which also needs to be kept cold, but not nearly as cold as Pfizer’s—will be the first vaccine to use the federal government’s contracted delivery plan to have doses shipped across the country.
“FedEx Express Canada will support the physical distribution of vaccines to provincial and health authorities for point of administration across Canada,” Anand said. “As soon as we land on the firm delivery dates in [quarter one] of 2021, we will be as transparent as possible. There are a number of moving parts occurring simultaneously in this monumental effort to undertake a national vaccination program, with vaccines that have not yet been approved.”
In an emailed statement to CTV News, President of Innomar Strategies Guy Payette said that his company will help protect the viability of the vaccine doses throughout the transportation cold chain, including providing facilities to “safely and securely store” doses.
“To support access, Innomar will provide third-party logistics and importation services, including scalable storage solutions, to accommodate distribution efforts… The storage facilities—which are equipped to store complex pharmaceutical products, including those with cold chain requirements—are temperature-mapped and have a validated monitoring system to protect against temperature excursions,” Payette said. “This agreement is another extension of the role we play in improving product access and increasing supply chain efficiency in Canada.”
Canada has signed deals with seven vaccine manufacturers: Pfizer, Moderna, AstraZeneca, Sanofi and GlaxoSmithKline, Johnson & Johnson, Novavax, and Medicago. Through these deals, Canada has guaranteed access to 194 million doses with the option to purchase 220 million more, meaning if all vaccines pan out, the country would have access to 414 million doses.
‘WORKING AROUND THE CLOCK’
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said that the Health Canada regulators who are assessing the efficacy and safety of the leading vaccine candidates are “working around the clock” to complete their reviews.
“Health Canada’s independent review of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is ongoing,” Trudeau told reporters during his Rideau Cottage press conference on Friday.
Trudeau was seeking to address Canadians’ building anticipation for when they can begin getting vaccinated, after the United Kingdom approved Pfizer’s vaccine for use with first doses expected to be given imminently, and with the United States on track to approve the vaccine sometime next week.
Health Canada’s chief medical adviser Dr. Supriya Sharma said during a Nov. 26 vaccine briefing that Canada could approve Pfizer‘s vaccine candidate for use here within the same timeline as the Americans.
This Thursday, Sharma told reporters that the review of Pfizer’s vaccine candidate is progressing “very well” but the agency is awaiting some “key” information coming in the next few days, including quality assurance checks on the specific batches destined for Canada.
“Regulators are working around the clock,” said Trudeau, pointing to the ongoing logistical work underway to plan for the rollout of vaccines once they are deemed safe.
APPROVALS FAST BUT SAFE: PM
“The work that Health Canada is doing to ensure that every vaccine that is approved is safe for Canadians, is uncompromising. There are no corners cut, there are measures put in place to ensure that any vaccine we distribute to Canadians will be safe for Canadians,” Trudeau said, addressing questions about vaccine skeptics and those who are casting doubt on the science behind the shot.
“It is extremely important that support for scientists and doctors and health professionals and local public health authorities continues to be shared, and that’s why it behooves every parliamentarian to stand up for science to support the work of our experts who are working extremely hard to keep Canadians safe,” an apparent dig at certain opposition MPs who the Liberals have called out for sharing misinformation about the virus and the vaccine.
Echoing this, during a press conference following the prime minister, Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam said Friday that while there isn’t an approved vaccine yet, and the rollout will pose a logistical challenge: “Any and all COVID-19 vaccines approved for use in Canada will be required to meet the highest standards of quality, safety, and effectiveness set by Canada’s rigorous regulatory review process.”
The global search for a way out of this public health crisis has resulted in more than 140 COVID-19 vaccine candidates currently in various stages of development, including nearly 30 vaccines currently in phase-three clinical trials.
The vaccine submission review process can usually take up to a year.
“Reviewing a vaccine submission can consist of hundreds of thousands of pages of data, takes on average 2,000 person-hours, each vaccine review typically involves a team of seven to 12 reviewers,” said Sharma during last week’s vaccine briefing.
However, under an emergency order, Health Canada has been able to expedite the authorization process. Health Canada will need to evaluate each candidate before it can be administered to Canadians.
This includes accepting rolling information — the same as our allied countries have received — as it comes in from the manufacturer, rather than waiting until the end of that pharmaceutical company’s study.
This is what is making it possible for approvals to be just days or weeks away.
SET FOR 10K CASES A DAY BY JANUARY: TAM
Tam said Friday the latest longer-range modelling forecasts indicate that if Canada stays on the same trajectory, we could reach 10,000 cases daily by January.
Tam said the current case counts show continued rapid growth of the epidemic “over many weeks in a growing number of health regions across Canada.”
“The troubling rise in the number of people experiencing severe illness continues over the past week,” she added.
During his address, Trudeau directed attention back on the current COVID-19 situation, saying the pandemic spread remains “very serious” in many parts of Canada.
“Cases are too high, and hospitals are filling up,” he said, adding that when that happens there are consequences for more than just those who have COVID-19, including health workers, and Canadians who have had a surgery cancelled.
He also restated the economic supports in place, including those for businesses that have had to close, and called on Canadians to shop local this holiday season.