The federal government has entered two agreements to secure millions of doses of potential COVID-19 vaccines.
Public Services and Procurement Minister Anita Anand says Ottawa has signed deals with the pharmaceutical giant Pfizer and biotechnology firm Moderna. Pfizer will supply its BNT162 mRNA-based vaccine candidate, while Moderna will provide its mRNA-1273 vaccine candidate.
“These vaccine candidates are very promising and we all look forward to the day when restrictions can be lifted entirely,” Anand said Wednesday during a news conference in Toronto along with Science and Industry Minister Navdeep Bains.
“However there is more work to do. Any potential vaccine candidate will take time to develop, properly test, mass manufacture and distribute.”
Anand wouldn’t specify exactly how many doses Canada would purchase under the deals or how much money it would spend because the government is in negotiations with international and domestic firms about purchasing additional doses of other vaccine candidates.
She said the government plans to make orders with multiple companies.
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“These agreements with Moderna and Pfizer are indicative of our aggressive approach to secure access to vaccine candidates now so that Canadians are at the front of the line when a vaccine becomes available,” Anand said.
Last month, Public Services and Procurement Canada issued bids to supply 75 million syringes and other vaccine administration supplies like alcohol swabs and bandages, to be delivered by the end of October. The goal is to have enough supplies to give every Canadian two doses of a vaccine.
All potential vaccines will require Health Canada regulatory approval. Anand said she expects Pfizer and Moderna to begin delivering their vaccines, if approved, sometime in 2021.
Vaccines in Phase 3 of clinical testing
Both companies began Phase 3 clinical trials of their vaccine candidates in the last week; large-scale tests to determine how well the vaccines work. Both use messenger RNA to try to provoke an immune response to COVID-19.
Vaccine development normally takes years, or decades, but U.S. and European experts say under an optimistic scenario, the first of those vaccines could complete testing and get approval for distribution next year.
Pfizer and Moderna are part of the U.S. government’s Operation Warp Speed program to facilitate the development and production of COVID-19 vaccines quickly.
Pfizer said on July 22 that it has a US$1.95-billion agreement to supply 100 million doses to the U.S. government, with an option for 500 million more.
Moderna CEO Stephane Bancel said in a conference call Wednesday that small amounts of its vaccine have been priced between US$32 and US$37 a dose, but that the price would be lower for big orders.
Pfizer also said it expects it can produce 100 million doses of its vaccine by the end of December, and another 1.3 billion doses in 2021.
Last month both Pfizer and Moderna reported positive results from smaller trials. Moderna’s vaccine was tested on 45 healthy adults between 18 and 55 years old in a Phase 1 trial in May and June, and reported a strong immune response in all people, with mild or moderate side effects such as fatigue, fever and body aches.
The Phase 3 trials will test both vaccines on 30,000 people, and results are expected in the fall.
Dr. Michael Gardam, an infectious disease specialist and chief of staff at Humber River Hospital in Toronto, said it’s important for countries to secure a vaccine supply now as demand heats up around the globe.
“Everybody is in it for themselves and you look at what almost happened with the U.S. blocking the shipment of N95 respirators to Canada … We’re going to see similar kind of stuff with vaccines,” said Gardam.
Gardam said there is always the risk that a country chooses a vaccine that ends up being ineffective or harmful after testing, which would put it right to the back of the line.
“We have to kind of make an educated guess which is what [the government has] done,” said Gardam.
Tam warns vaccine no ‘silver bullet’
The announcement comes one day after chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam warned that Canadians shouldn’t expect a COVID-19 vaccine to be a “silver bullet” that will bring a swift end to the coronavirus pandemic and a return to normal.
Tam said public health officials are planning for a scenario where public health measures that have been taken so far could remain in place even after a successful vaccine is found.
Anand echoed that sentiment, urging Canadians to continue to practice physical distancing, wash their hands and wear masks in public to prevent the spread of the virus while we await a vaccine.
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