Justin Trudeau's comments on COVID-19 vaccine timeline 'very concerning,' Ontario health minister says
TORONTO -- Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott said Thursday that recent comments by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau suggesting Canadians may have to wait longer for any approved vaccines are “very concerning” and she called on Trudeau to ensure a timeline that would see Ontario get its first doses in early 2021.
“This is very concerning and very disappointing because our understanding was that this had been finalized by the federal government. Now it appears maybe it is not,” Elliott told reporters Thursday. “So it's really incumbent on the prime minister to stand up for Canada, and make sure that we get our share of the vaccines during the timeframes that they originally stated.”
A number of companies are currently seeking FDA approval for promising vaccines, which they could receive as early as December.
While the federal government has previously said that it has secured deals for millions of doses of the not-yet-approved vaccines, Trudeau said earlier this week that Canadians might have to wait longer to get vaccinated because we don’t have strong vaccine production capacity in Canada and the first doses will likely go to people in countries where they are produced.
Some of the leading vaccine candidates are mRNA vaccines, a relatively new type of vaccine that has not been mass-produced in Canada before.
However speaking with reporters at a separate news conference Thursday, Federal Health Minister Patty Hajdu said Ottawa is still aiming to get a vaccine to some Ontarians in the first few months of next year.
“Well, I can't speak to where Minister Elliot is getting these ideas that Ontario will not have access to a vaccine in early 2021. In fact that's the target that we're shooting for,” Hajdu said.
She added that the federal government is working to procure “a diverse portfolio of a variety of different kinds of vaccines, and we are working diligently with all three of the leading manufacturers that have submitted for regulatory approval.”
Public Services and Procurement Canada said Thursday that the federal government has finalized purchase agreements with five of the seven companies it has been negotiating with, including Pfizer and Moderna, but negotiations are ongoing to finalize purchase agreements with Johnson & Johnson and Novavax.
Hajdu also said that while there is excitement about a possible vaccine, any vaccine distributed to Canadians will undergo a regulatory review by Health Canada first.
She also faced a grilling by opposition MPs in the House of Commons later Thursday, where she reiterated that the government has secured key agreements to get Canadians vaccines when they are available.
Speaking with CP24, Infectious Disease Specialist Dr. Abdu Sharkawy said even if Ontario receives doses of a vaccine in the first few months of next year, people should understand that it will not mean an immediate end to the pandemic.
“I think we all need to be cognizant of the fact that even if the vaccines were going to begin delivery and deployment early in 2021, it wasn't going to be for the vast majority of citizens, and we were going to need to focus on all the important risk mitigation strategies that have benefited us up to this point in time, and we would need to do that for several months thereafter,” he said. “So I don't think this fundamentally changes that much for most people in our community.”
Government officials have previously said that frontline health care workers and the most vulnerable members of the population would be the first to receive any vaccine.
Premier Doug Ford told reporters at his daily news conference Thursday that he will be seeking clarification from the Prime Minister in a conference call with the premiers later tonight.
“We need to know when,” Ford said. “This is going to be the largest logistical challenge that this country's overseen in a generation, getting these out.”
Ford said Canada can’t be “last in line” to get a vaccine.
“We can't have our neighbours down in the states and everywhere else getting vaccines and Canada's waiting three months as their economy starts taking off when they have the vaccine and we're sitting back, you know twiddling our phones wondering when we're going to get it,” Ford said. “So we need some answers from the federal government.”
Ford said he will have more to say Friday about the province’s plan to roll out a vaccine when it is available.
- With files from The Canadian Press