Thank you so much.
Honourable members, thank you for the opportunity to speak today.
I am going to focus on how a lack of transparency and accountability in the supply of COVID vaccines has impacted Canadians. The COVID-19 pandemic has amplified the vital importance of the role of governments to ensure access of their populations to safe and effective vaccines.
The deployment of COVID-19 vaccines illuminates the importance of transparency. The large sums of public funding involved in the research and development process, every country’s urgent need for the vaccines, and the need to enhance public confidence in them are reasons we need transparency. What is more, public funding has contributed to the development of the COVID-19 vaccines, earning the global public a right to have much more transparency around their procurement.
COVID-19 vaccines are a global public good. Everyone everywhere can benefit from them.
When information regarding the deployment and supply of these vaccines is not publicly available, there is an information vacuum. That creates fertile ground for public distrust in vaccines and may contribute to vaccine hesitancy, as well as allowing for misinformation to flourish.
Opacity in clinical trial reporting of adverse effects can contribute to vaccine hesitancy as well. According to a recent Gallup world poll, such hesitancy translates into about 32% of people worldwide who are unwilling to get a vaccine. This will put a critical dent in our efforts to end this pandemic.
Uncertainty and misinformation can only be tackled by the sharing of evidence often and clearly. The more this is done, the more likely we are to generate public trust and bolster our vaccine deployment efforts.
In “For Whose Benefit?”, a recent study my research team contributed to with colleagues from Transparency International UK, we found that Canada has done relatively well in making its clinical studies report available. Still, Canada has also participated in the alarming trend of governments censoring key details of their orders from drug companies, or not releasing them at all. This creates, and rightly so, a perception of asymmetric power between pharmaceutical officials and public officials.
Procurement in the best of times is a government function that is at the highest risk of corruption. During emergencies, these risks are amplified due to the need for speed and flexibility in the process. We need to move fast. That is why transparent and accountable public emergency procurement processes are vital during a pandemic.
Accountability helps to ensure that relevant institutions answer to those who will be affected by decisions or actions taken by them. It can also reduce the risk of abuses, assure compliance with standards and procedures, and improve performance and organizational learning. Institutions need to explain and justify their results to internal and external monitors or stakeholders and, when performance falls short, we need to let that be known.
We have witnessed a deficit of transparency and accountability on the part of the Canadian government, particularly in terms of its negotiations and purchasing agreements with pharmaceutical companies. Greater transparency will allow the public to know what prices were paid. This will allow for more informed decisions and can, over time, lead to greater purchasing power to negotiate prices with suppliers. Transparent pricing data can illuminate patterns and any outliers, such as overpayments, kickbacks, etc.
Procurement systems without accountability and transparency mechanisms create real risk in terms of credibility and trust in the process.
We know that this pandemic will only end when we are all safe. This means we, as Canadians, need to be concerned not only about our own vaccine supply but also about those of other countries, not only for health reasons but for humanitarian ones, as well.
We're dealing with the pharmaceutical industry, which is often secret in order to protect its commercial interests. This has never been acceptable. As the saying goes, in times of crisis, there is opportunity. The global pandemic is an opportunity for the Government of Canada to insist on transparency from the pharmaceutical industry and, in doing so, heighten its accountability to the Canadian people. It needs to be forthcoming with how much it's paying, what it's negotiating and why, in order to boost public trust and confidence in our supply of COVID-19 vaccines.
Early on, prior to Health Canada’s authorization of any COVID vaccine, the federal government overbought doses for the Canadian population. In our study we found that we have, as Canadians, 11 agreements in place, which translates to about 16.23 doses per person. By comparison, the United States has eight total agreements and about 10.2 doses per person.
In Canada, despite this abundance, we failed to meet clear timelines in terms of when the deliveries from manufacturers would happen. As a result, supplies were erratic and uncertain in the first quarter of 2021, and this meant frustration and fear amongst Canadians.
Even though our government made agreements with manufacturers that far exceed our population needs, we also dipped into COVAX, which is the multilateral initiative for helping to ensure equity of access to COVID vaccines globally. Canada's standing as a global health leader is now in question, as it turned to COVAX when the majority of low-income countries globally are still struggling to have enough vaccine supply to vaccinate even their health workers.
In closing, what I will say is that it's essential to integrate better transparency and accountability measures in our agreement with the pharmaceutical industry if we hope to gain public trust. Canada has the opportunity right now to champion pricing transparency, become a global leader for clinical trial transparency, and also release full information about its vaccine negotiations with suppliers.
Thank you for your time.