Trudeau Vaccine Chief Wants NHL Fans Back in Seats Next Season

Canada’s procurement minister hopes her efforts to secure Covid-19 vaccines will allow her compatriots to watch National Hockey League games in person next season.

The country’s vaccine campaign is off to the second-slowest start among Group of Seven nations. Procurement Minister Anita Anand said in an interview Thursday the pace will pick up rapidly after some initial delays in deliveries.

“We are doing everything we can to move as many doses as possible forward, from Q3 to Q2,” Anand said by video conference from her home office in the Toronto suburb of Oakville. “That’s my goal because I want Canadians -- my family included -- to be able to go to an NHL hockey game.”

Trudeau Vaccine Chief Wants NHL Fans Back in Seats Next Season

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government has faced criticism over the slow pace of vaccinations. The country has administered just 5.7 doses per 100 people, according to the Bloomberg Vaccine Tracker, while the U.S. and U.K. have given 24.9 and 32.9 doses for each 100 of their citizens, respectively.

Trudeau has said for weeks the country will get enough vaccine to inoculate every Canadian who wants a jab by September. The projection was based on the approval of the Pfizer Inc.-BioNTech SE and Moderna Inc. shots late last year.

But with AstraZeneca Plc’s vaccine now authorized, and a decision on Johnson & Johnson’s candidate expected soon, Anand is confident that target will be moved up.

“It is highly likely that our vaccine timeline will accelerate,” she said. “I am loathe to simply throw caution to the wind and proclaim a new date without ensuring that our delivery schedules are firm and we will receive vaccines.”

Anand added: “Procurement is only one piece of this puzzle. The other piece of this puzzle is that when we get vaccines out to provinces and territories, they need to administer them in good time.”

Government officials have attributed the slow pace, in part, to Canada’s expansive geography, the temperature requirements of the Pfizer shot and a healthcare system that leaves it to each province to organize vaccinations. But temporary shipment cuts around the end of January put Trudeau in an uncomfortable spot, as critics questioned the strength of Canada’s contracts and its ability to sway manufacturers.

Anand defended the government’s track record. “It is very early in the race to be declaring a winner,” she said. “We will be making up ground as the number of vaccines comes into this country by the millions.”

Pfizer’s decision to curtail shipments to retool a factory in Belgium, which Anand found out about on the evening Jan. 14 and disclosed to the public the next day, “was a difficult moment for me personally,” she said.

The minister, who was a law professor before entering politics, then turned to trying to persuade manufacturers move up commitments for doses. “There is a global allocation table, where each country and jurisdiction is vying for the same finite amount of product, and hurdles like this, early in the delivery of 40 million vaccines overall, aren’t entirely unexpected,” Anand said.

Trudeau Vaccine Chief Wants NHL Fans Back in Seats Next Season

Trudeau’s governing Liberals also faced criticism for tapping into supplies from Covax, the global vaccine-sharing facility designed to help developing nations inoculate their citizens. Canada is set to receive about 1.9 million AstraZeneca shots from South Korea through the organization.

Anand defended the decision, saying the government contributed C$440 million ($347 million) to the program with two goals in mind -- to help developing countries and ensure Canada’s vaccine supply.

“We have almost 400 million doses under our bilateral agreements and we are committed to sharing those doses with the developing world as soon as all Canadians have access to a vaccine,” the minister said.

Vaccine Nationalism

She also said her department decided to diversify its approach to supply after Donald Trump threatened to block exports of N-95 medical masks at the beginning of the pandemic.

“We learned from that experience and we said to ourselves during the time of contracting that we needed to ensure that we were receiving vaccines from diverse locations, so that we were not hit by vaccine nationalism in a way that would jeopardize the vaccine supply chain,” Anand explained.

The government then signed vaccine procurement agreements with seven companies. Canada was among the first countries to seal deals with Moderna and Pfizer.

While it’s unclear yet whether vaccination of this scale will be required every year to extend immunity, Anand said she has started raising the possibility of annual procurement with the manufacturers, including for vaccine boosters.

“We are putting in place contractual provisions to ensure that Canada has access to boosters,” she said.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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