Trudeau tries to reassure Canadians on vaccines, as EU issues warning

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said despite worries over what the European Union might do regarding keeping vaccines in its bloc amid delay concerns, he's been assured that Canada's promised vaccines are coming. 

Trudeau spoke with the CEO of Moderna earlier Tuesday. 

"The topic of the recent musings by Europe certainly came up and it was very, very clear that the Canadian contracts that have been signed and the delivery schedule laid out will be respected," he said. 

The warning comes from various EU officials after tense discussions with AstraZeneca, after the company informed the bloc that due to production issues, initial deliveries of the vaccine will likely be reduced. 

That led the union's economic branch president Ursula von der Layden to announce what she called a "vaccine export transparency mechanism" after investing billions of dollars to get vaccines produced. 

"The companies must deliver, they must honour their obligations," she said. "Europe is determined to contribute to this global, common good." 

"But it also means business." 

EU Health and Food Safety Commissioner Stella Kyriakides said discussions with AstraZeneca "resulted in dissatisfaction with the lack of clarity and insufficient explanations.

AstraZeneca's vaccine has yet to be approved in either Europe or Canada. 

"We do not have at this point or in the near future sourcing of AstraZeneca coming from the European manufacturers," Trudeau said, adding Canada has a close working relationship with European partners. 

"Gives me reassurance that contracts that we've signed and the supply chains that we have established with European manufacturers are in good shape," he said. 

This is the week where no Pfizer vaccines are coming from Europe to Canada and shipments will be reduced from normal sizes the next two weeks before ramping up again in February. 

International trade lawyer and principal at MAAW Law in Toronto, Mark Warner, said what's happening now is the result of various factors colliding. 

First, most vaccine companies are competing for specialized syringes and nano-particles required for their vaccines. 

Second, supply chain challenges were almost inevitable given mRNA vaccines such as Moderna and Pfizer were going from zero to hundreds of millions in an unprecedented amount of time. 

Third he says, companies using more traditional vaccine technologies, such as Sanofi Pasteur, haven't had as high efficacy rates of the mRNA ones. 

"And so countries around the world are now trying to get greater supply, order more of the ones that have crossed the finish line first," he said. "As we've seen it for Pfizer, we're probably going to see it from AstraZeneca and my guess is we'll also see it from Johnson & Johnson because J&J signalled last week that they are going to have difficulties getting theirs to the United States." 

"To the extent that we're depending on that, it seems it will impact our schedule timeline almost inevitably," he said. 

Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott was asked what a blockage of vaccines would mean for the province. 

"It will put us in a very difficult circumstance of course," she said. "If we don't get it through Belgium, of course we're going to be pressing Pfizer and also asking the United States for access to some from their Kalamazoo (Michigan) factory because it's absolutely vital that we get our population vaccinated and in very short order." 

Trudeau once again said the short term goal of three million Canadians vaccinated by the end of March and enough vaccine for every Canadian who wants one by the end of September is still on track.