Canada could start producing COVID-19 vaccines domestically by summer: sources

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is expected to announce a plan today to start producing COVID-19 vaccines in Canada as early as this summer.

Senior government officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity, told CBC News the prime minister will announce that U.S. pharmaceutical company Novavax has agreed to produce its vaccine, if approved by Health Canada, at the National Research Council of Canada’s facilities in Montreal.

The news was first reported by La Presse. 

As part of its negotiations with the company, Canada has secured 52 million doses of the Novavax vaccine, with options to purchase 24 million more. 

The Liberal government has been facing mounting concerns that Canada’s vaccine supplies will be affected by new controls on vaccine exports that have been imposed by the European Union.

The National Research Council had been gearing up to make CanSino Biologic’s vaccine, in a deal that included a $44-million upgrade of the NRC’s Royalmount facility in Montreal. But that deal crumbled when China refused to allow any doses of the vaccine to be exported to Canada for use in a clinical trial here.

After that deal fell apart the Trudeau Liberals added $123 million for the NRC, so it didn’t just expand the Royalmount facility, but built an entirely new production site beside it, capable of pumping out two million doses of vaccine a month.

Canada used to have a strong domestic vaccine industry. Federal records show in 1973, Canada relied on imports for only about one-fifth of its domestic pharmaceutical requirements including both vaccines and therapeutic drugs.

But the industry began to dry up in the 1980s, with multiple firms closing their Canadian operations including AstraZeneca, Bristol Myers and Johnson & Johnson.

Today, Canada relies on imports for at least 85 per cent of the vaccines and other pharmaceuticals it uses.

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