Canadian Manufacturing

Canada on the verge of making a domestic deal for the COVID-19 vaccine

Canada invested another $173 million to Quebec's Medicago, to push research on its vaccine and build a new production plant in Quebec.

February 2, 2021  The Canadian Press

On Feb. 2, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is expected to announce the makings of an agreement to produce COVID-19 vaccines within Canada.

Industry Minister Francois-Phillipe Champagne told The Canadian Press that the government is moving quickly to start making COVID-19 vaccines itself, instead of being entirely reliant on foreign production for the most sought-after product in the world.

The deal could help Trudeau tamp down the political headache caused by Canada’s skeletal vaccine production capacity.

Canada’s inability to produce any COVID-19 vaccines at home has left the country at the mercy of foreign governments who could at any time slam the doors shut to vaccine exports until their own people are vaccinated.

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That risk became ever more real this week as Europe’s new export controls on vaccines takes hold, putting at risk Canada’s entire supply of COVID-19 vaccines.

Champagne’s department and the National Research Council have been in talks with all the front-running vaccine makers in the world for months, trying to lure at least one of them to make some of their vaccines at the new facility, which is on track to be finished this summer.

None of those talks have borne any fruit until now.

“I have received positive feedback from some leading vaccine manufacturers in these discussions, and so we are moving full steam ahead to build Canada’s domestic production of vaccines,” said Champagne, in a statement to The Canadian Press.

The National Research Council was even rebuffed in offers to help all leading vaccine makers do research on scaling up their production processes to make the precious doses as fast as possible.

None of those offers were accepted.

Talks to do that with Novavax fell apart at the 11th hour last fall, right before an initial agreement for Canada to buy 52 million doses of Novavax’s vaccine was announced.

Canada invested another $173 million to Quebec’s Medicago, to push research on its vaccine and build a new production plant in Quebec. If Medicago’s vaccine turns out to be safe and effective for COVID-19, it will initially be made in North Carolina.

Canada’s only vaccine production exists with Sanofi in Toronto and GlaxoSmithKline in Quebec. Sanofi pumps out millions of doses of vaccine in Toronto for diseases like whooping cough, polio and tetanus, while GSK’s Quebec plant is where Canada gets most of its annual flu vaccine.

Today, Canada relies on imports for at least 85 per cent of the vaccines and other pharmaceuticals it uses.