Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe speaks with the media on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Tuesday November 12, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe is calling on the federal government to procure additional vaccines that can be ready to be administered in the initial round of immunizations, a move he says in part would alleviate a lot of the “difficult decisions” premiers are having to make about closures and restrictions.

“We need our federal government to very ambitiously and aggressively procure some additional vaccines in a tighter timeframe… we need access to more vaccines, we need it sooner rather than later,” Moe said in an interview on CTV’s Question Period.

Canada has guaranteed access to 194 million doses with the option to purchase 220 million more, meaning if all vaccines pan out, we’d eventually have access to 414 million doses from seven different pharmaceutical companies -- enough to vaccinate every person in this country more than a few times over.

However, Health Canada anticipates only receiving an initial 6 million doses from the two leading drug companies -- Pfizer and Moderna -- by the end of March at this point.

“That's not enough. We are going to need more access and we're going to need that access sooner,” Moe said.

In a best-case scenario, Health Canada could be in a position to approve Pfizer’s vaccine for use in Canada in December, and the plans are being made with military assistance to administer initial doses to prioritized groups between January and March.

“We're going to treat about less than 10 per cent of Canadians prior to March. The U.S. is planning for treating just under 10 per cent of Americans by the end of December. So we need to pick it up a little bit here in Canada,” Moe said. “As a nation, we were behind the eight ball.”

Canada’s plan would eventually expand out to more Canadians over the following months as more vaccines are approved and more doses are shipped here, with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau giving a September 2021 target for the majority of Canadians being vaccinated.

“If as is speculated the Americans approve in the middle of December one or a number of these vaccine candidates, literally within a couple of weeks millions of doses will start to arrive in Canada. We will have a very effective, very well-planned rollout system, in partnership with provinces and territories to deliver that vaccine safely and effectively to Canadians. So the idea that there's a lag time of months and months and so on, is inaccurate,” said intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc in a separate interview with CTV's Question Period host Evan Solomon.

LeBlanc went on to say the federal government is leaving “no stone unturned” to boost its early access to vaccines.

“Any chance we have to accelerate the number we get… the number of vaccines we get, will be welcome opportunities,” LeBlanc said.

Procurement Minister Anita Anand -- whom Trudeau has praised for her efforts in securing a large portfolio of vaccine candidates -- sought to defend the work done by her department in locking in vaccine deals. However, Canada is at a disadvantage because the country does not currently have the domestic manufacturing capacity, nor the licensing agreements in-hand to mass-produce doses for Canadians of eventual effective vaccines.

“We explored every possibility with these suppliers, including making sure that they knew we would be open to any option relating to the domestic manufacturing, as well as international agreements,” Anand told reporters on Friday.

“We were the fourth country, of all countries in the world, to get an agreement with Pfizer. We were one of the earliest countries to secure an agreement with Moderna… And then with regards to AstraZeneca, we are the first country that they signed with that did not have a large scale bio manufacturing facility,” she said.

Moe said that back in 2017 his government began asking to build up a manufacturing facility in Saskatchewan.

“The requests were there to increase our manufacturing capability… right here in Saskatchewan. They were not moved on by the federal government at that time, and if we did we would have been in a little different situation here today,” Moe said.

LeBlanc once again pointed to that some major pharmaceutical companies that left Canada under previous Conservative governments.

“Over many decades the bio-manufacturing capacity in Canada dissipated and diminished,” he said.

The prime minister spoke with premiers again on Thursday evening about the COVID-19 response and said the federal government is offering the latest information it can, after frustration and confusion about timelines and plans bubbled over this week.

Moe said that on the call, all premiers asked about when they were going to get access to vaccines and how many doses. He said the provincial leaders’ concerns are that they want to make sure their local health authorities are ready for the rollout.

“Why it's important for provinces to know how much we're getting and when we're getting that is, it is the provinces that will ramp up the vaccination programs and that is what we are busy trying to do with our health systems and public health systems across the nation,” he said.

Conservative health critic Michelle Rempel Garner said that with an operation this major, more details should have been worked out months ago, because every day people are dying.

“People aren't going to get back to work, they're not going to be able to get their kids back to school, reopen their businesses,” she said.

NDP Health Critic Don Davies said that Canadians just want to know as much as they can about what to expect with the vaccine rollout.

“Australia has issued a 12-page plan, a very similar country to ours, a similar size federation that sets out in very close detail how they're going to vaccinate, who's going to do it, and by when. They're producing 30 million doses of AstraZeneca vaccine domestically, so we know that countries can produce domestically, we know that they can be forthright about their plan, they know that they can reveal that to the public… So, I just don't understand why this Canadian government here, the Liberals are incapable of doing the same thing here,” Davies said.

Asked whether he and other premiers are relying too heavily on an eventual vaccine to end the COVID-19 crisis rather than implementing the necessary public health restrictions and sectoral closures now, Moe said that in his view, the quicker a vaccine is ready, the sooner premiers will have to stop making as many “difficult decisions.”

“When we have access, wide-scale access to this vaccine, that will help that that other much tougher conversation go away,” he said.

However as Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam pointed out on Friday, while Canada may be nearing the procurement of vaccines that so far have been shown to be effective in preventing COVID-19 disease in clinical trials, questions remain as to whether the vaccines would at all prevent people from transmitting a COVID-19 infection to another person. This means mask-wearing and physical distancing could be part of daily life for quite some time.