I call this meeting to order.
Welcome, everyone, to meeting 17 of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Health. The committee is meeting today to study the emergency situation facing Canadians in light of the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.
I'm going to forgo the usual housekeeping message, as recommended by the committee. I agree that we don't really need it at this stage of the game.
I would like to welcome the Honourable Patty Hajdu, Minister of Health, and the the Honourable Anita Anand, Minister of Public Services and Procurement.
We have senior officials accompanying the ministers. From the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, we have Dr. Siddika Mithani, president. From the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, we have Dr. Michael Strong, president. He has not yet arrived but will hopefully join us as we proceed. From the Department of Health, we have Dr. Stephen Lucas, deputy minister. From the Department of Public Works and Government Services, we have Mr. Bill Matthews, deputy minister. From the Public Health Agency of Canada, we have Mr. Iain Stewart, president; and Major-General Dany Fortin, vice-president, vaccine rollout task force, logistics and operations; and Dr. Theresa Tam, Chief Public Health Officer. General Fortin has not yet joined us either.
We will go straight away into the ministers' statements, starting with Minister Hajdu.
Minister, please go ahead for 10 minutes.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair and honourable members.
Thank you for this opportunity to speak to you about the Government of Canada's COVID-19 vaccination strategy.
It's been just over one year since the first case of COVID-19 was detected in Canada. The intervening months have been extremely challenging. Canadians have experienced hardship, anxiety and heartbreaking losses. To say that it has been difficult is indeed an understatement.
But there is reason for hope. In less than a year, vaccines have been developed and authorized. Canadians are receiving them right now, and every single vaccination brings us closer to a safer, healthier and more prosperous future.
I would like to begin by providing an update on vaccine distribution. As you know, both the Pfizer and the Moderna vaccines have been authorized for use in Canada and are now being distributed across the country. So far, we have secured a total of 80 million doses of these two vaccines. Of these, more than 1.1 million doses have been delivered to the provinces and territories. This means that more than 860,000 people have received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine.
Although the delays recently announced by Pfizer and Moderna will have a short-term impact on vaccine rollout, we are still on track to receive the full six million doses from Pfizer and Moderna by the end of the first quarter. Starting in April, the pace will accelerate, with at least 20 million doses delivered between April and June. It is during this time that the mass vaccination campaigns will really begin to ramp up around the country. We are working with the provinces, territories and indigenous partners to prepare for this next phase. Most importantly, we expect to have enough vaccine for every Canadian by the end of September 2021, even if no other vaccine is authorized for use in Canada.
In the meantime, while supplies are limited, vaccines are being distributed strategically to the groups who need them most.
While the provinces and territories are responsible for the distribution of vaccines within their jurisdictions, their decision-making is informed by the recommendations of the National Advisory Committee on Immunization.
Last fall, the committee recommended who should be vaccinated first, given limited initial supplies of vaccines, and this includes residents and staff of congregate living settings that provide care for seniors; adults 70 years of age and older, starting with those 80 years of age and over; health care workers; and adults in indigenous communities where infection can have disproportionate consequences.
Given these guidelines, I'm pleased to say that there has already been notable progress in the territories. In Nunavut, more than 11% of the population has received at least one dose of Moderna. In the Northwest Territories and the Yukon, more than 21% and 9% of their respective populations have received at least one dose of the vaccine.
This month, the national advisory committee will be updating its guidance on the prioritization of initial doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, and this updated guidance will help inform stages two and three of the vaccine rollout as vaccine supplies increase.
In the meantime, we expect additional vaccines to be authorized. Health Canada is now reviewing vaccine submissions from AstraZeneca, Janssen, Verity Pharmaceuticals and Novavax. Should these vaccines be found to meet Health Canada's strict standards for safety, efficacy and quality, they would be authorized and included in upcoming vaccination campaigns.
Vaccine development is a long and highly complex process. In normal times, it can take years to carry out the extensive research needed to produce a safe and effective product. Vaccine reviews normally take place after all clinical studies are completed and the full results are available, but of course these aren't normal times. We're fighting a global pandemic, and many thousands of human lives hang in the balance. With this in mind, we have put into place measures to safely expedite vaccine authorization.
Health Canada is the regulator responsible for this process. We recognize the need for flexibility to expedite it, given the urgency of the COVID-19 pandemic, but we can't compromise on safety, quality and efficacy. That's why last fall I signed the interim order respecting the importation, sale and advertising of drugs for use in relation to COVID-19. This interim order allows us to accept rolling submissions for COVID-19 drugs and vaccines.
What that means is that manufacturers can submit data as it becomes available. These requirements are comparable to those established by other major regulators, such the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the European Medicines Agency, and the World Health Organization. It was through this expedited process that the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines were authorized. Health Canada is using the same process to review subsequent submissions for COVID-19 vaccines.
Once an authorized vaccine is in use, Canada continues to monitor its safety through its well-established post-market surveillance system. This system collects safety data from various domestic and international sources, including mandatory reporting by manufacturers, which allows Health Canada and public health authorities to respond quickly to changing trends or unusual adverse events.
This system was enhanced through the interim order, which provides the authority to impose terms and conditions on any authorization or establishment licence at any time. This includes a post-market safety and effectiveness system with risk mitigation measures, and additional assessments of safety information, as requested by Health Canada. Of course, Health Canada will not hesitate to take action if safety concerns are identified.
The Government of Canada is working closely with provinces, territories, indigenous and public health partners to ensure the timely rollout of the vaccines as they're authorized by Health Canada. Our vaccine strategy is being led by the national operations centre. This centre was created by the Public Health Agency of Canada and is supported by the Canadian Armed Forces and the Department of National Defence.
At the same time, the national emergency strategic stockpile of the Public Health Agency is making sure we have the supplies we need for a smooth rollout, and this includes millions of needles, syringes and alcohol swabs, as well as freezers for vaccine storage all across the country.
With vaccination now under way and measures in place to ensure a reliable supply of vaccines, we can look ahead to a future free of COVID-19.
The Government of Canada is doing everything it can to reach that future as soon as possible. We're taking steps to authorize safe and effective vaccines quickly. We're protecting our most vulnerable citizens first, and we're working with all partners to ensure that everyone who wants a vaccine can get access to a vaccine.
At the same time, the Government of Canada continues to invest in research. The Canadian Institutes of Health Research is addressing many issues related to COVID-19, from the development of vaccines and therapeutics to the variants of the virus, including their impact on the effectiveness of vaccines.
In the meantime, we cannot let our guard down. We must continue what we've been doing—staying physically distant, washing our hands, wearing a mask.
We owe it to our seniors. We owe it to our neighbours with high-risk conditions. We owe it to our health care providers and essential workers.
We must stay vigilant as we wait for our turn to get vaccinated. That day is coming soon. When it does, I want Canadians to be proud of how they worked together to overcome this unprecedented health crisis.
Mr. Chair, thank you for the opportunity to appear before this committee alongside my colleague and Minister of Health, the Honourable Patty Hajdu.
I would like to acknowledge that I am meeting you from the territory of many first nations, including the Mississaugas of the Credit, the Anishinabe, the Chippewa, the Haudenosaunee and the Wendat peoples.
Joining me today is my deputy minister, Mr. Bill Matthews.
Before I begin, I would also like to extend a thank you to all of the people working behind the scenes who continue to make these virtual meetings possible—particularly our interpreters and translators, who play an essential role in ensuring Canadians have the most pertinent information in this time of crisis.
Globally, we have been living with COVID-19 for more than a year now.
From the beginning, my department, Public Services and Procurement Canada, PSPC, has worked tirelessly to procure the necessary supplies needed to get Canada through this crisis.
To date we have secured more than 2.5 billion individual items of personal protective equipment. We have delivered tens of millions of COVID tests, supplies and therapeutics, including 19 million rapid tests, to our provincial and territorial counterparts.
We know that the fastest way out of this pandemic is by getting vaccines to Canadians as quickly as possible. This is why we signed a number of agreements, as early as July of last year, for more doses than we would need. Our efforts were guided by, first, the vaccine task force, and second, the Public Health Agency of Canada. Our procurements proceeded after we received that advice. Our goal from early on was to build up a diverse portfolio of vaccines so that Canada would be ready once they were authorized and indeed discovered. As a result, we now have doses of authorized vaccines under contract to be delivered this year—enough to inoculate every single eligible Canadian.
As Minister Hajdu has noted, vaccines are now arriving and more are on the way.
Yet, while we are making significant progress, we have also known there could be bumps along the way, and we have always been upfront with Canadians about that fact.
As their products are proving safe and effective, vaccine manufacturers are significantly ramping up production to fill orders from around the world. Given this unprecedented reality, it is not surprising that vaccine supply chains have been volatile.
The whole world is operating in this environment, and all countries are facing the same challenges. This is precisely why we took the approach of putting in place a number of agreements and building up a diverse portfolio with flexibility built into our contracts.
When Pfizer and Moderna informed Canada and other countries that deliveries would be lower than predicted in the short term, it was disappointing news. I want to assure members and all Canadians that these delays are only temporary.
I can tell you that I and my officials have been in touch with suppliers every day to ensure that they meet their contractual obligations, and deliveries to Canada did resume this week. Last Friday a shipment of Pfizer vaccines left Europe. This Wednesday a shipment of Moderna vaccines left. Both have arrived in Canada for distribution to the provinces and territories this week.
In addition, through the COVAX initiative, Canada will also receive approximately 1.9 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine. This will be in addition to the six million doses of Moderna and Pfizer that arrive this quarter.
Mr. Chair, the AstraZeneca deliveries are, of course, dependent upon Health Canada approval, and these deliveries are in addition to the 20 million does of AstraZeneca that Canada has secured through an advance purchase agreement directly with AstraZeneca.
I can assure this committee that I work closely with all vaccine suppliers to accelerate their delivery timelines into Canada. We continue to work closely especially with the four other manufacturers with which we also have bilateral agreements: Sanofi-GSK, Medicago, J&J and Novavax.
Our diversification strategy is working. We have two approved vaccine candidates, three in regulatory approval and two in clinical trials. Once regulatory authorization is given, we will take action to get more vaccines into Canada as soon as possible.
We need to remember that we are in the early stages of a massive undertaking. As supply chains stabilize, we will see more predictable and more significant progress.
With the action taken so far, by the end September every eligible Canadian who wishes to have a vaccine will be able to have one. I can tell you that we are continuing to press our suppliers to make sure we get advance deliveries for doses even earlier. No stone is being left unturned.
While vaccines are critically important, my department has also worked hard to secure the syringes needed to administer vaccinations.
We have secured more than 170 million syringes of varying sizes from a range of suppliers. This includes 64 million of the low-dead volume syringes, which are in extremely limited supply around the world.
The first delivery of approximately one million of those specialized syringes is arriving in Canada this week, with another million on the way for next week and deliveries continuing through to May.
Mr. Chair, there is no greater priority than protecting Canadians from COVID-19. We are fighting every day to get PPE, rapid tests and vaccines for Canadians. This is what we will continue to do.
I am committed to this effort. I look forward to working with this committee and my parliamentary colleagues to put this pandemic behind us, once and for all. Together, we will get through this.
I appreciate being here with you today, and I look forward to taking your questions.
Thank you so much. Merci beaucoup. Meegwetch.
Welcome to ministers Hajdu and Anand, as well as all the officials here today.
My comments will revolve around a few key words: transparency, clear-sightedness, predictability and credibility. The idea this afternoon is to practise good politics. Being a critic doesn't make you petty.
With 249,000 doses, you aren't exactly giving us light at the end of the tunnel. It's more like a sparkler display of false hope. Since January 28, the sparklers have given way to a flickering candle, one that goes out much of the time. Nevertheless, people need hope, and hope is built on predictability, clear-sightedness and transparency.
In a crisis, it's important that people continue to follow the health guidelines, that people remain engaged, that front-line workers know the path forward and that vulnerable people know how the crisis will end.
Why are you not being transparent about the vaccine delivery schedule? Why are you not putting out a new, credible schedule? Why are you not releasing the details about vaccine procurement and delivery?
At the outset I will say I too believe in the utmost professionalism when testifying at committee or appearing in the House of Commons. It's one of the reasons I entered politics, to ensure that we have proper discourse.
The release of contracts is something that I can understand Canadians and the opposition wanting, given that I too believe in transparency and accountability. I have been raising this issue with the vaccine suppliers. At the same time, we are obliged to respect the terms of our contracts. There are two parties to a contract. It's a bilateral deal. As a result, I cannot unilaterally decide to release a contract. It needs to be something that both parties agree upon, and at this point in time it would be imprudent and illegal for me to release those contracts.
To the point of your question—would it provide greater clarity?—as I said, those vaccine contracts contain quarterly delivery timelines, which we have mentioned are the end of March for Pfizer and Moderna for four million and two million doses, respectively. The part of this negotiation with the vaccine suppliers that we are making clear is these estimated delivery schedules that naturally shift given the ramp-up that is occurring in the supply chain at their production facilities.
We will continue to provide information to Canadians on whether it is positive or negative. Unfortunately, last week involved negative news, but we still provided it. This week we are seeing a ramp-up in the deliveries coming to Canada, and that is going to continue to steadily incline. We will also share that information with Canadians in the interests of transparency and accountability.
To go back to the point about what else we are doing, weekly we hold transparency or technical briefings with officials. Major-General Dany Fortin and the other officials attend to answer Canadians' questions, which is in addition to our appearances at these committees and in the House of Commons.
We will continue to be as clear and accountable to Canadians as possible. It is our commitment as a government.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
I want to thank our witnesses, and I also want to thank the government officials for being here. I know we're not hearing an awful lot from them, but I do want to thank them for the work they're doing day and night to keep Canadians safe.
My question is for Minister Anand. Under previous governments, Canada lost the manufacturing capability and technology to produce some of these extremely highly technical vaccines. I think this is just obviously one of the reasons why it's so important that you, Minister, and our government have worked so hard to make sure Canada has a very strong—I know we've heard this a lot—and diverse vaccine portfolio. We hear that a lot. We have the most units per capita in the world.
I recognize that members opposite like to say that this portfolio doesn't necessarily matter, that Canadians won't be vaccinated until 2022 or 2030, but we know that it does matter. This type of misinformation only serves to mislead Canadians and spread fear. As soon as Health Canada approved the first vaccine candidate, we took delivery of vaccines, and the same with the second. We've already delivered more than a million vaccines to provinces and territories.
Minister, I think we can agree that we're hearing a lot of false and misleading information about vaccine delivery and distribution. I want to know if you can tell this committee what the reality is of vaccines being delivered in Canada.
By all means, I would very much like to present the facts as I know them, and as I present them to Canadians whenever I have an opportunity.
First and foremost, you are correct that we were one of the first countries to begin inoculations in December, and, indeed, to roll out a vaccine across the country. The reason why we were chosen by Pfizer and Moderna as the recipient of their vaccines earlier than other countries was because Canada was ready.
The Public Health Agency of Canada, Minister Hajdu and I mentioned to the vaccine companies that we would be ready to accept delivery. That readiness and perseverance has certainly paid off in terms of our negotiations with the vaccine companies.
Moderna in particular has continued to mention that this is only a temporary delay, and they will continue to deliver. Pfizer has also mentioned that this is only a temporary delay. We will, through both of those suppliers, see six million doses in this country prior to the end of March, as those companies are committed to do under contract.
We at PSPC have moved very quickly to ensure that we would have options under contract and accelerated delivery so we will see 20 million more doses of approved vaccines alone coming into this country in Q2. That is a very important fact to remember when thinking about the deliveries that Canadians should be expecting. Millions and millions of vaccines are going to be coming into this country in Q2. Canadians, provinces and territories should realize that and be ready.
Then at the end of Q3, if not sooner, we expect there to be more than 70 million vaccines in aggregate in this country, and all Canadians who wish to have access to a vaccine should have it.
In my opinion, the Economist timetable, the Bloomberg timetable and the messaging we have heard from the opposition on the impossibility of reaching our timelines, are false. We have had assurances from the vaccine suppliers, and, indeed, from approved vaccine suppliers alone—Moderna and Pfizer—that they will be shipping those vaccines to this country. I am confident that we will be seeing Canadians who wish to be inoculated being inoculated prior to the end of September, if not sooner.
The Prime Minister has repeatedly said that every Canadian who wants to have a vaccine will have one before September. My understanding is that it's based solely on existing contracts that we have with Moderna and Pfizer. However, there are three other vaccines that are currently waiting for approval in Canada. Two of those have completed phase three trials and shown effectiveness. Although AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson might not have, in the original trials, shown 95% efficacy like Moderna and Pfizer, they weren't in head-to-head trials with those other vaccines. There were different populations and different amounts of variance.
In addition, it seems that with further boosters, you can increase the efficacy of pretty well all vaccines. Johnson & Johnson has only one. Their result was with one shot. In addition, although Johnson & Johnson was effective at preventing only 70% of people getting COVID, it decreased the number of admissions to hospital and deaths 100%. These vaccines seem to me to be very likely to be approved. The results of these studies are public and have been much scrutinized by the medical community. I know that we have to wait for the completion of the regulatory process, but it seems to me that Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca are very likely to be approved. AstraZeneca has already been approved in some jurisdictions. If preliminary results from Novavax hold, then we have a fifth vaccine.
I understand our reluctance to count our chickens before they hatch. However, again, it seems very likely that probably all three of these vaccines will be approved. Canada's bought millions of doses of these vaccines. Given this, it would seem to me that our promise to have every Canadian who wants to be vaccinated before September is very conservative—in the sense of a prediction, not in the sense of a party.
I know that we rightly don't want to make promises we can't keep, but there's a great deal of COVID fatigue out there. That's resulted in real health problems. People are unhappy. They're despondent. They're drinking too much. They're overdosing. They're ignoring public health advice because they don't see an end in sight. I would assume that our government has some prediction on vaccination rates and timelines if the other vaccines are approved. Would you be willing to share this with us?
That's to anyone who might want to answer that quick question. I don't think we should promise anybody anything, but I think Canadians really want hope. From what I'm hearing, that September timeline seems very conservative.
I'll start, and then maybe I can turn to Minister Anand to speak a bit as well.
You're right that it's a difficult time right now for Canadians. They are anxious. They are tired of the restrictions in which they face a new reality. I do want to take the time to actually thank Canadians, because by and large Canadians have followed public health measures. It has been difficult. There are sacrifices, some that we see in the media and some that we'll never know about, that people are making in their daily lives to protect each other. I truly am proud to be a Canadian when I look at my fellow Canadians and the astronomical amount of work they're putting into life in their community in protecting each other and sustaining and adapting their businesses. The stories go on.
The target that we have repeated, which is our goal of having enough vaccinations in the country for every Canadian who wishes to be vaccinated by the end of September, I think is a realistic target, but it doesn't mean there's not a lot of work ahead. As I think Minister Anand and many others have pointed out, we will start to see the volume of vaccines arrive in this country, all things considered, with manufacturers hopefully getting all of their ducks in a row, and the commitment is that we'll have those doses in Canada in increasing numbers over the next two quarters. That means April, May, June, which will be very busy for Canadians and for provinces and territories, and July, August, September, which will still be very busy.
Provinces and territories are stepping up. You heard Major-General Dany Fortin speak about the work the provinces are doing right now to make sure they have the capacity to not only vaccinate in large volumes but to tap into some of the networks that actually help them every single year in massive influenza vaccination campaigns, for example. I think Canadians can be confident that the vaccines are coming. If we manage to exceed that target of the end of September for every Canadian who wishes a vaccine to have one, that's great news for Canada. Again, sticking with trying to remain realistic in these targets, I think it's a reasonable goal.
I'll turn to Minister Anand to see if she has any words to add.
As I listen to the witnesses answer the questions about procurement, I sometimes get the sense that Canada had to bow down to the pharmaceutical companies.
Still, the truth will come out one day.
The health minister will no doubt agree that each day vaccinations are delayed, the pressure on the health care system and front-line workers mounts. What's more, the number of non-COVID-19 patients grows; potential COVID-19 patients are not the only ones at risk.
The people suffering you don't hear about are non-COVID-19 patients. Why are there so many? Because health care has been underfunded for decades, so much so that the resources needed to respond to the pandemic are lacking.
Since the government apparently works so well with the provinces, why does it stubbornly refuse to increase health transfers? Why does the government refuse to send provinces a strong message that it will support their capacity to get through the crisis, so they can allocate their resources properly? Why not send that message now? It seems to be more about holding the power than about improving public health.