Opinion

It’s bad enough Canada continues to fall behind other countries in the procurement of COVID-19 vaccines.

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It’s bad enough Canada continues to fall behind other countries in the procurement of COVID-19 vaccines.

The federal government is making it worse by keeping provinces in the dark on when their vaccine shipments will arrive, leaving delivery details in some cases until the last minute.

Despite the urgency to immunize as many people as quickly as possible, Manitoba still doesn’t know how many doses of the Moderna vaccines it’s expected to get in its next shipment, scheduled for the week of Feb. 22. The province has been given an estimate on how many doses of Pfizer-BioNTech will be sent over the next two weeks; however, there are still no delivery dates.

It is not just the fault of the manufacturer, it is gross incompetence on the part of the federal government.

Justin Trudeau's government appears content to accept whatever the manufacturers tell it without putting up a fight or demanding more reliable information.

JUSTIN TANG / CANADIAN PRESS FILES

Justin Trudeau's government appears content to accept whatever the manufacturers tell it without putting up a fight or demanding more reliable information.

The global supply disruptions for both Pfizer and Moderna are well-understood; there’s little the federal government can do in the short term. What it can do, however, is demand clarity on shipment details and communicate that information to the provinces in a timely manner.

The federal government is the buyer. It has contracts with vaccine manufacturers that include terms and conditions. It should be exercising its rights under those contracts to get clear information about production delays and specifics on when deliveries will return to normal.

It’s not good enough for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to throw his hands in the air and say there’s nothing he can do about the delay. There’s plenty he can do. He’s just not doing it.

Until mid-January, the federal government was providing Canadians with regular updates of how many vaccine doses each province was expected to get on a weekly basis, until the end of March.

Ottawa was also showing, on its webpage, how much each province had already received.

It’s not good enough for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to throw his hands in the air and say there’s nothing he can do about the delay. There’s plenty he can do. He’s just not doing it.

Over the past two weeks, it’s been radio silence. The Pfizer projections were removed from the federal government website, with no word on when new forecasts will be posted. There are no projections on Moderna shipments to the provinces beyond this week.

 

How can the federal government, as the buyer, not know how many doses it’s expecting from Moderna less than two weeks from now?

How can the federal government, as the buyer, not know how many doses it’s expecting from Moderna less than three weeks from now?

 

Shockingly, there doesn’t seem to be a level of urgency. The Trudeau government appears content to accept whatever the manufacturers tell it without putting up a fight or demanding more reliable information.

It’s weak. It’s also incompetent. It could cost lives.

Every week seniors and other high-risk Canadians have to wait for a vaccine dose, the risk of contracting the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, and dying, increases. That can’t be reversed, even if Canada scales up supply next month.

The stakes are even higher now that a new, more contagious variant has arrived in Canada. (It hasn’t yet been detected in Manitoba.)

Despite the urgency to immunize as many people as quickly as possible, Manitoba still doesn’t know how many doses of the Moderna vaccine it’s expected to get..

MATIAS J. OCNER / MIAMI HERALD FILES

Despite the urgency to immunize as many people as quickly as possible, Manitoba still doesn’t know how many doses of the Moderna vaccine it’s expected to get..

It's entirely possible the nation could be facing a third pandemic wave; all the more reason to expedite the immunization program.

The Trudeau government hasn’t explained why Canada has fallen so far behind other countries in securing vaccine supply. All countries are facing the same global shortages and production disruptions. Yet, Canada is disproportionately affected.

That’s on Ottawa. Dozens of countries are getting needles into more arms than Canada is on a per capita basis.

Canadians were probably willing to cut the federal government some slack when Ottawa first announced the Pfizer delay last month. After further delays were announced almost every week since, that goodwill is likely evaporating.

This is a pandemic. Canada needs wartime leadership. Unfortunately, it is not getting it.

tom.brodbeck@freepress.mb.ca

Tom Brodbeck

Tom Brodbeck
Columnist

Tom has been covering Manitoba politics since the early 1990s and joined the Winnipeg Free Press news team in 2019.

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