Canada inks deal to produce millions of COVID-19 shots domestically

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced today a plan to produce millions of COVID-19 shots at a plant in Montreal starting this summer, securing a domestic supply of vaccines as the global market contends with delivery delays and protectionist measures.

The National Research Council-owned Royalmount facility will churn out tens of millions of doses of the product developed by Maryland-based Novavax, Trudeau said. That company submitted its vaccine to Health Canada for regulatory approval last Friday.

“This is a major step forward to get vaccines made in Canada, for Canadians…. We need as much domestic capacity for vaccine production as possible,” Trudeau said. “We won’t rest until every Canadian who wants a vaccine has received one.”

Novavax has said its protein-based COVID-19 vaccine product produced an efficacy rate of 89.3 per cent in late stage clinical trials, with strong protection against the strain of the virus first reported in the U.K., which has shown to be more resistant to other vaccine candidates.

Canada agreed to purchase shots from Novavax — a biotechnology company that has been at the forefront of developing new vaccines against influenza — last August. The government has since upped that purchase agreement with a commitment to buy at least 52 million doses of the two-dose product.

Last summer, Trudeau announced more than $125 million to upgrade the National Research Council (NRC) facility to produce vaccines domestically and avoid the global scramble for shots.

At the time, Trudeau said the factory could produce hundreds of thousands of shots starting in November. But the project ran into problems when it was determined the facility didn’t meet exacting good manufacturing practices (GMP) required for such a site.

The work on upgrading the NRC facility has continued and it’s now expected to be ready to produce COVID-19 shots sometime this summer, the prime minister said, with a production capacity of approximately 4,000 litres per month, which is equivalent to approximately two million doses of a vaccine.

When complete, the facility will be able to make viral vector, protein subunit, virus-like particle based vaccine doses, but not mRNA shots like those developed by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna. The Novavax product is of the protein subunit variety.

The announcement comes at a time that Canada’s inoculation campaign is facing a series of delays and disruptions. The two primary suppliers, Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna, have been beset with manufacturing issues that have resulted in lower shipments to Canada.

The European Union has also introduced new export controls that could result in some shipments being delayed or cancelled altogether because Canada’s current supply of shots comes from plants in Europe.

The protectionist push threatens to derail deliveries in the short term, although International Trade Minister Mary Ng has said she has received verbal assurances from European leaders that Canada’s supply will not be affected.

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