Jesse Kline: Moderna cutting vaccine shipments by a quarter another blow to Trudeau

The Liberals have treated us like children, making bold promises, while trying to shield us from the harsh realities of this pandemic world

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News that shipments of the Moderna vaccine to Canada will drop by about one-quarter in February was yet another blow to the Liberal government’s constant assurances that we will have enough doses to vaccinate the entire population by September, but the growing anger over the vaccine roll-out has more to do with misplaced expectations, rather than some sort of anti-Canadian bias on the part of Big Pharma.

On Friday, Moderna announced that Canada will receive around 180,000 doses next week, instead of closer to 230,000. Supplies over the following three weeks will be cut by 20 to 25 per cent. This comes on the heels of Pfizer’s announcement two weeks ago that it will be sending us roughly 80 per cent fewer doses over the next month than it initially promised, as it upgrades its plant in Belgium to produce more vaccine.

Since the Pfizer announcement, many have suggested that Canada is being singled out. And perhaps we would be in a much better position if the government had signed contracts with vaccine makers sooner, instead of leaving us at the back of the line.

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There’s also no doubt that the Liberals wasted a lot of time and energy on a Chinese vaccine, only to have it blocked by that country’s Communist government, which has had frosty relations with us for years.

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We would be in a much better position now if the government had instead invested in Providence Therapeutics, a Canadian company that announced this week that it is starting human clinical trials of its mRNA vaccine, and whose CEO claims it could be on track to producing vaccines by the summer had the government given it the $35 million it requested last spring.

These failures make our current shortages seem all the more acute. But it would be unfair to pretend that Canada’s situation is somehow unique, given that practically every country is dealing with a shortfall of vaccines at this point in time.

In France, a source told Reuters that health officials are telling hospitals in the Paris area that they will have to stop giving out first doses starting Feb. 2, due to “extremely tight vaccine supplies.” Parts of Spain have also run out of vaccines, while others have stopped giving initial shots to ensure there will be enough to administer second doses to those who have already had one.

Germany’s health minister warned that the country is facing “at least 10 tough weeks with a shortage of vaccine,” as some regions delay the opening of vaccination clinics or push back the timeline for when people will get their first doses.

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Likewise, in Portugal, which has one of the highest rates of infection in the world, health officials have had to extend the first phase of the country’s vaccination plan by two months, as they now expect to receive half as many doses in the first quarter as initially thought.

Meanwhile, Italy is preparing to take legal action against Pfizer and AstraZeneca over delays, and the European Union has been threatening similar action.

Indeed, a scan of the headlines from around the world shows that the situation we’re facing here in Canada is by no means unique. It’s little wonder that Europe is considering imposing export restrictions on vaccines until it can ensure enough supply for its own population — not exactly in the spirit of togetherness we might have hoped, but understandable nonetheless.

What this all shows is that we need to temper our expectations. Let’s not forget that we have two viable, mass-produced vaccines — three if you count the AstraZeneca vaccine, which was approved for use throughout the EU on Friday — that were developed, tested and approved in less than a year, rather than the decade or so these things usually take. Or that these three companies are trying to supply much of the world in a very short time frame.

The upgrade to Pfizer’s factory in Belgium will allow the company to produce an additional 700 million doses this year. It will certainly cause some short-term pain in countries like Canada, but the additional capacity will undoubtedly be worth it.

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What we are witnessing is no less than a massive industrial undertaking that likely won’t be fully appreciated until we are able to look back on this situation and see just how quickly the pharmaceutical industry was able to ramp-up production on a global scale.

This, of course, is cold comfort to the many people who will die before they have access to a vaccine. If anything, the takeaway should be that we all need to redouble our efforts to evade the virus and be prepared to hunker down for the foreseeable future.

The problem is that this is not the message Canadians are getting from their government. Earlier this week, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told us that, “We just need to hang in there for a few more months.” And after the Moderna announcement, Trudeau was adamant that, “This temporary delay doesn’t change the fact that we will still receive two million doses of the Moderna vaccine before the end of March, as we’ve been saying for months.”

Nor has the government budged on its assertion that we will have enough doses to vaccinate every Canadian by September.

As a journalist, I certainly understand the value of a deadline, but throughout this pandemic I have found myself constantly trying to moderate the expectations of people who always seem to think that the end is right over the horizon (sorry, mom, but we probably won’t be visiting this summer). And I can’t help but think that there would be a lot less anger if the government had just levelled with us from the start.

Instead, the Liberals have treated us like children, making bold promises, while trying to shield us from the harsh realities of this pandemic world and keeping important information — like the details of the vaccination plan and the contracts we signed with the manufacturers — shrouded in a cloak of unnecessary secrecy.

National Post

jkline@postmedia.com

Twitter.com/accessd

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