Tam says feds, experts discussing COVID-19 vaccine orders amid concerns of delay

OTTAWA — Active discussions are taking place to potentially pre-order COVID-19 vaccine doses for Canadians, chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam said Tuesday.

She said an independent vaccine task force is advising the government on options for Canada's choice of vaccine, including exploring the possibility of manufacturing a potential cure for COVID-19 at home.

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Tam was addressing concerns that Canadians will have to get in line behind other countries to wait for the COVID-19 vaccine.

One senator and some health-care professionals are asking why Ottawa is delaying a decision on the $35-million pitch by Toronto-based Providence Therapeutics to begin human trials of a new, experimental vaccine technology that has been heavily funded in the United States.

Providence says it could deliver five million doses of a vaccine to Canadians by mid-2021 if its trials bear fruit, but it can't move forward with testing or manufacturing without funding.

At a media briefing in Ottawa, Tam said the task force is an independent body comprised of "people who have been experienced in the areas of vaccination, infectious disease but also in the area of vaccine development and that sort of industry knowledge."

She said the task force reports to Health Minister Patty Hajdu and Innovation Minister Navdeep Bains.

"Their role is to provide advice," said Tam. "How the money is spent is up to the government itself."

Conservative health critic Matt Jeneroux called on the Liberal government to end the delays.

"Under the Trudeau government's watch Canada is falling behind in its research and securing a successful vaccine when we should be at the forefront of this health crisis, not lagging behind because of red tape and over regulation," Jeneroux said.

"We expect the Trudeau government to provide a plan to tackle the delays slowing down Canada's researchers and to outline what their government is doing to purchase treatments and vaccines for Canadians."

Providence's chief executive Brad Sorenson has told The Canadian Press he has yet to hear back from the government since late May after his company submitted its proposal in April, and after the government reached out to it as a possible vaccine-maker.

Health-care professionals have also written to Bains to urge him make up his mind on the April proposal.

Bains spokesman John Power has said he couldn't comment on specific proposals but said the evaluation process is ongoing.

"Our government is committed to working on all possible fronts to deliver safe and effective treatments and vaccines against COVID-19 to Canadians," Power added in a statement on Tuesday.

Tam said Canada is trying to negotiate access to a vaccine through a series of international channels as well as looking at viable options at home.

"There's very active discussions with any promising candidate in terms of trying to get advanced purchasing agreements and those types of approaches done right now," she said.

Those ongoing talks come as Canada has been experiencing an uptick in COVID-19 cases in recent weeks as more people circulate in warm summer months and with the provinces allowing more economic activity.

Tam said the daily national case count, based on a seven-day average, rose across Canada this past week to 496 to 487. That was after it dropped to 273 in early July.

Tam said the "worrisome" rise in COVID-19 infections may have been fuelled by larger-than-recommended Canada Day gatherings.

"The Canada Day long weekend may have resulted in some big parties in certain areas of the country. Those social gatherings have accelerated the cases," she said.

Tam said as much as efforts are being made to "reopen the socioeconomic space as much as possible" there could be rollbacks if the infections continue to rise.

"If people don't collaborate and support this effort, things could be tightened up again," she said.

Tam suggested she would be careful about dining at a restaurant.

"I haven't seen what the scene looks like, but I will probably be comfortable on the outside right now because outside is better than inside. But I would look carefully and see what on earth is going on inside the environment," she said.

"If it doesn't look good, then I'm not going to go in."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 28, 2020.

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