Statements & Speeches

COVID-19 Vaccine (Question Period)

December 2, 2020

Hon. Judith G. Seidman: Honourable senators, my question is for the Leader of the Government in the Senate. Earlier today, the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency in the United Kingdom gave approval to the Pfizer vaccine for COVID-19. The development and approval of this vaccine is a remarkable achievement, and I extend sincere congratulations to all involved.

Next week, people in the U.K. will begin receiving vaccinations, starting with health care workers and long-term care residents and staff.

Senator Gold, when does the Government of Canada expect that our country’s health care workers and the residents and staff of long-term care homes will begin receiving approved vaccines for COVID-19?

Hon. Marc Gold (Government Representative in the Senate): Thank you for your question. This is something top of mind for Canadians and, indeed, something upon which this government is engaged on a daily basis. As the minister announced in the media yesterday, the government has been working for a long time now on plans to procure adequate sources of vaccines and to work out the appropriate distribution plans with the provinces and territories, so that Canadians can have the benefit of those vaccines in a timely fashion.

I will not repeat what I have said earlier in the chamber of the success that this government has had in securing agreements with seven companies to obtain vaccines, many of which are proving to be very promising. Nor should I need repeat to this chamber the challenge that Canada faces, having lost its manufacturing capacity over the years, therefore having to rely upon vaccines produced elsewhere in the world. The fact remains, however, that the Government of Canada is working on and has developed its distribution plan. It is working with the vaccine producers.

The next step is approval by Health Canada to make sure the vaccines meet Canadian standards. The minister stated yesterday — I believe on “Power & Politics” but I’m sure on other platforms as well — that the next step, immediately upon approval, is that the vaccines will arrive according to the contractual arrangements to which they are subject. The government is actively negotiating with the producers so that Canadians can have the benefit of vaccines as soon as possible.

Senator Seidman: You mentioned distribution. A month ago, Canada’s National Advisory Committee on Immunization provided preliminary guidance on target groups for early vaccinations.

Yesterday, “Global News” reported that upon learning Canada would receive fewer doses than expected in the first round, the advisory committee felt it “had no choice” but to recommend a ranked system, with people living in long-term care, assisted living, retirement homes and chronic care hospitals receiving the first vaccinations, along with those who take care of them.

Leader, the Prime Minister and premiers have spoken in recent days about the need to ensure consistency across Canada in terms of which populations receive the first COVID-19 vaccinations. When will Canadians learn what the order of distribution will be?

Senator Gold: Again, thank you for the question. The responsibility of the federal government, which it has and is discharging, is to acquire the vaccines and to get them into Canada once approved by Health Canada.

It is also the responsibility of the federal government to work with the provinces and territories to ensure that the vaccines, as they become available in Canada, are distributed appropriately and equitably. To that end, the government has secured the assistance of military personnel and logistical equipment to make sure that the vaccines that are now on stream can be transported safely.

At the end of the day, however, it is the responsibility and duty of the provinces and territories to make those decisions as to priorities for their residents. The Government of Canada will continue to work with them to ensure that there is shared information, but also respect for the respected jurisdictions that apply.