A health-care worker prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a UHN COVID-19 vaccine clinic in Toronto on Thursday, January 7, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette

A health-care worker prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a UHN COVID-19 vaccine clinic in Toronto on Thursday, January 7, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette

Canada on verge of deal to make COVID-19 vaccines at home

Instead of being entirely reliant on foreign production

OTTAWA — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau today is expected to announce the makings of an agreement to produce COVID-19 vaccines within Canada.

Industry Minister Francois-Phillipe Champagne tells The Canadian Press 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.

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 was 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.

An email chain, released to the House of Commons health committee in the latest batch of documents on Canada’s pandemic response, shows a reference to the agreement was deleted from the memorandum of understanding with Novavax the day before the deal was made public.

The National Research Council was also going to make doses of CanSino Biologic’s vaccine, in a deal that included a $44-million upgrade of the NRC’s Royalmount facility in Montreal.

But Canada’s partnership with CanSino fell apart almost as quickly as it began, when China refused to allow any doses of the vaccine to be exported to Canada for use in a clinical trial here.

The vaccine is made using technology that was developed at the NRC in the first place and then licensed to CanSino for use in an Ebola vaccine.

After that deal fell apart the Trudeau Liberals added $123-million for the NRC, so it didn’t just expand the Royalmount facility, but built an entirely new production site beside it, capable of pumping out two million doses of vaccine a month.

It won’t be able to make the messenger RNA vaccines, like those from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna, but can make most other types of vaccines, including those made by the other three vaccines currently being reviewed by Health Canada — AstraZeneca, Johnson and Johnson and Novavax.

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.

The two are collaborating on a COVID-19 vaccine, which was delayed until at least the fall after initial results were not as good as hoped. But their plan, like that of Pfizer, Moderna, Novavax and Johnson and Johnson, does not involve making any of that vaccine in Canada.

Canada used to have a strong domestic vaccine industry. Federal records show in 1973, Canada relied on imports for only about one-fifth of its domestic pharmaceutical requirements including both vaccines and therapeutic drugs.

But the industry began to dry up in the 1980s, with multiple firms closing their Canadian operations including AstraZeneca, Bristol Myers and Johnson and Johnson.

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

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 2, 2021.

Coronavirusvaccines

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Red Deer Public Schools says that in the absence of additional funds from the provincial government, there was no consideration of using alternate classroom sites in the district. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)
Red Deer Public Schools launches online engagement process

Red Deer Public schools is seeking community input to help ensure a… Continue reading

Red Deer Rebels defenceman Mason Ward battles with a Medicine Hat Tigers’ forward during the WHL Central Division season opener. (Photo by Rob Wallator/ Red Deer Rebels)
Tigers come back to spoil Red Deer Rebels home opener

It’s been nearly 345 days since the Red Deer Rebels last played… Continue reading

Students walk into Hunting Hills High School, which is one of the Red Deer Public Schools with solar panels on its roof. (Photo by SEAN MCINTOSH/Advocate staff)
Red Deer high school was placed in lockdown following potential threat

Hunting Hills High School was placed in a lockdown Friday after Red… Continue reading

Red Deer Mayor Tara Veer says some details of the provincial government’s 2021-22 budget need to be ‘sorted out’ when it comes to the hospital expansion funding. (File photo by Advocate staff)
More detail needed regarding hospital funding, says Red Deer mayor

Red Deer Mayor Tara Veer says some information is unclear regarding the… Continue reading

Alberta Health reported two new COVID-19 deaths in Red Deer Friday. (Image courtesy CDC)
Two more deaths linked to Olymel outbreak in Red Deer

Province reported 356 additional COVID-19 cases Friday

An arrest by Red Deer RCMP is facing online scrutiny. No charges have been laid and the incident is still under investigation. (Screenshot of YouTube video)
Red Deer RCMP investigating violent arrest caught on video

Police say officer ‘acted within the scope of his duties’

Runner Melissa Bishop-Nriagu speaks to the media at the opening news conference at the Canadian Track and Field Championships Thursday, July 25, 2019 in Montreal.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Canadian athletes struggling to find competition as they try to qualify for Tokyo

Canadian athletes struggling to find competition as they try to qualify for Tokyo

New York Red Bulls midfielder Jared Stroud, right, vies for the ball against Toronto FC midfielder Jonathan Osorio during an MLS soccer match in Harrison, NJ., Sunday, Nov. 8, 2020. Entering his ninth season with Toronto FC, Jonathan Osorio said his off-season regimen was no different than in the past. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Eduardo Munoz Alvarez
Veteran TFC midfielder Jonathan Osorio looks to take it to the next level this season

Veteran TFC midfielder Jonathan Osorio looks to take it to the next level this season

Powell, Lowry help depleted Raptors beat Rockets

Powell, Lowry help depleted Raptors beat Rockets

Edmonton Oilers goalie Mikko Koskinen (19) makes the save on Toronto Maple Leafs' Zach Hyman (11) as Tyson Barrie (22) defends during third period NHL action in Edmonton, Saturday, Jan. 30, 2021. Toronto continues to lead the North Division standings, but hard-charging Edmonton is now just four points back on the all-Canadian circuit heading into a three-game series between the teams in Alberta's capital beginning Saturday. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Maple Leafs, Oilers set for key three-game series atop North Division

Maple Leafs, Oilers set for key three-game series atop North Division

Angela James stands on centre ice in front of the Toronto Maple Leafs team after being inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame before Toronto Maple Leafs and Buffalo Sabres NHL hockey action in Toronto on Saturday November 6, 2010. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young
Hall of Famers James, Lowe, Hay named to Order of Hockey in Canada

Hall of Famers James, Lowe, Hay named to Order of Hockey in Canada

Toronto Raptors head coach Nick Nurse talks to center Aron Baynes (46) and guard Norman Powell (24) during the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Philadelphia 76ers Sunday, Feb. 21, 2021, in Tampa, Fla. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Chris O'Meara
Nurse, five Raptors assistants sidelined to due COVID-19 health and safety protocols

Nurse, five Raptors assistants sidelined to due COVID-19 health and safety protocols

Team Ontario skip Rachel Homan, centre, makes a shot against Team Wild Card 1 as second Sarah Wilkes, left, and lead Joanne Courtney sweep at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts in Calgary, Alta., Friday, Feb. 26, 2021. Ontario's Rachel Homan kicked off play in the championship pool Friday with a 7-6 victory over Chelsea Carey of Team Wild Card One at the Canadian women's curling playdowns. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Homan and Einarson improve to 8-1 at Canadian women’s curling championship

Homan and Einarson improve to 8-1 at Canadian women’s curling championship

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau rises during question period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
New vaccine brings optimism amid rising threat of variants, high case counts

New vaccine brings optimism amid rising threat of variants, high case counts

Most Read