Feds sign deals with Novavax and Johnson & Johnson to secure millions of vaccine doses

The federal government has reached agreements with Novavax and Johnson & Johnson to secure millions of doses of COVID-19 vaccine candidates.

The deals hinge on Health Canada approval but if trials proceed as planned, deliveries in Canada would begin at the start of 2021. The government has also inked deals with pharmaceutical firms Pfizer and Moderna for access to millions of doses of their unique candidates.

"Taken together, our vaccine agreements with Pfizer, Moderna, Novavax, and Johnson & Johnson, will give Canada at least 88 million doses, with options to obtain tens of millions more," said Trudeau during a press conference on Monday.

"Once a vaccine is proven to work, we’ll also need to be able to produce and distribute it here at home."

To date, Novavax will supply 76 million doses of NVX-CoV2373, Moderna will supply 56 million of mRNA-1273, Johnson & Johnson will supply 38 million of Ad26.COV2.S, and Pfizer will supply 20 million BNT162.

Trudeau also announced the government would be spending $126 million to expand the bio-manufacturing facility at the National Research Council in Montreal, with a projected deadline of mid-2021.

"This funding will increase this facility’s ability to manufacture vaccines and will strengthen the NRC’s partnerships with vaccine developers."

Infectious disease specialist Dr. Isaac Bogoch says the candidate still has a variety of regulatory hurdles to overcome before it gets the green light but this step indicates Canada is well positioned in the global race to find a COVID-19 vaccine.

"It’s wonderful to see that the federal government is looking at vaccine candidates, looking at which ones could be successful. We appreciate that some of these might not be successful and we’re sort of hedging our bets and we’ll have access to vaccines when they become available," he told CTV News Channel on Monday.

This follows news last week that Chinese customs halted the shipment of CanSino Biologics’ vaccine candidate to Canada, denying the opportunity to commence human trials here.

"Due to the delay in the shipment of the vaccine doses to Canada it is evident this specific opportunity is over and the NRC is focusing its team and facilities on other partners and COVID-19 priorities," the National Research Council said in a statement on Thursday.

Trudeau responded to the move on Monday, saying he had hoped the long-standing partnership between the Canadian government and CanSino would have proved fruitful amid COVID-19 after successfully partnering with the company to combat the Ebola virus.

"Unfortunately China didn’t grant export permits for the vaccine to Canada so we’re continuing to focus on the many other paths that are very promising," he said.

While multiple trials testing various vaccine candidates are progressing around the world, there is currently no accepted cure or vaccine for the novel coronavirus.

In a follow-up press conference on Monday, Health Minister Patty Hajdu said COVID-19 immunization will not be mandatory but Canadians can be assured that Health Canada’s regulatory process will yield a safe vaccine.

"We want to be very clear, Health Canada will not authorize a vaccine unless scientific evidence demonstrates that it is safe and effective," she said. "Even in this accelerated environment, health-care officials are working around the clock to ensure Canada is well prepared when a safe vaccine becomes available."

She praised Canadians for having a high degree of vaccine literacy when compared internationally, but warned of misinformation online.

"It’s so important that Canadians use credible sources when they’re looking for information about this vaccine and any other," she said. "Including your family doctor, local public health units, or by visiting Health Canada’s website."

VACCINE STRATEGY

Asked about which countries will get access to what and when, Minister of Procurement Anita Anand said the government’s strategy to diversify suppliers will place Canada at the "front of the line."

"At this stage, no one knows which vaccine is going to be successful. Therefore, we need to have many options on the table for Canadians and I will assure you that we aren’t on a frolic of our own in this decision-making."

While Canada won’t have hands on the production of these vaccine candidates, Anand said investments like that in the NRC will help bolster the country’s abilities in the longer term.

"We need to make sure just as we did with PPE that there is a Canadian answer here."

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