Can Alberta make its own deals with vaccine makers? Ottawa says go for it

The federal minister of procurement says Canadian provinces can try to procure COVID-19 vaccine on their own, but the federal government has already secured enough doses for all Canadians who want them.

Federal government say it has secured enough doses to give all Canadians shots by September

Public Services and Procurement Minister Anita Anand says the federal government is not blocking provinces from trying to procure vaccine on their own. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

Provinces can try to make their own deals with COVID-19 vaccine suppliers, but the federal government has already secured enough doses to give all Canadians inoculations by the end of September, says the federal minister of procurement.

"We heard throughout this crisis from various premiers that they were looking to procure their own PPE or vaccines now, as the case may be," Anita Anand said at a news conference on Tuesday. "And we, as a federal government, are in no way inhibiting or blocking them from doing so."

Anand was asked to respond to Premier Jason Kenney's comments that Alberta will use up its current supply as early as next week and plans to try to strike agreements with manufacturers that aren't locked into agreements with the federal government. 

"Suffice it to say that we have procured enough vaccines to inoculate all Canadians, and indeed we have the most number of doses per capita of any country in the world," she said. 

With a population of 37 million — not large in comparison to other countries — the federal government can get a better deal by buying in bulk, Anand said.

"We really need to band together, I believe, to ensure that we are putting the best foot forward as a country in negotiating for the entire country," she said.

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney and Quebec Premier Francois Legault leave a press conference in Ottawa on Sept. 18, 2020. A poll from Leger and the Association for Canadian Studies found just 30 per cent of respondents in Alberta were satisfied with the Kenney has done on the pandemic. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

She pointed to the additional 20 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced had been secured on Tuesday, doubling Canada's order with the U.S. pharmaceutical company.

Federal Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs Dominic LeBlanc said he took note of Kenney's comments and texted with the premier Tuesday morning to reiterate his desire to collaborate with the province.

​​​​Kenney said Monday that Alberta will be able to administer 50,000 doses per week by the end of January, and its "stretch goal" for the end of March is 200,000 doses per week. ​

The federal government, he said, has told Alberta it can expect to have received 677,000 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines by the end of  March.

"But as I've pointed out," Kenney said on Monday, "our capacity [to administer vaccines] by that point, at the end of March, will far, far outstrip the incoming supply."

He said Alberta is pursuing contracts with other manufacturers.

In a Tuesday interview on the Danielle Smith Show, Kenney said the federal government has exclusive contracts with several vaccine producers. He told listeners he has asked his team to pursue potential agreements with other companies that don't have such contracts with Canada.

He confirmed that the federal government is meeting targets in supplying the quantity of vaccine it committed to, but said those targets aren't keeping pace with Alberta's capacity to inoculate people.

Short supply?

As early as next week, he said, Alberta could be short 20,000 vaccines based on the pace of inoculation.

During a Tuesday news conference, Alberta's chief medical officer of health said the difference between how many shots Alberta is able to give and the quantity of vaccine coming in has been taken into account. 

"Expanding into further groups of eligibility will wait until we have sufficient supply, but we will not be cancelling appointments," Dr. Deena Hinshaw said.

She confirmed that the interval between first and second doses of the vaccine will be increased to six weeks from the manufacturer's recommendation of three to four weeks.

Federal and World Health Organization guidelines say increasing the window of time between shots is permissible when community spread is high and there's a need to get the first dose to as many people as possible, Hinshaw said, and sitting on enough doses to provide second shots when more supply is expected would limit the province's ability to protect as many people as possible.

"We felt the responsible thing to do to prevent as many deaths as possible was to be able to provide that first dose to as many people as possible while still planning for that second dose," she said.

It's important that people keep their appointments for their second doses, she said. While a person should have 90-per-cent protection two weeks after the first dose, health officials are still unsure how long that protection will last without the second dose.

As of Jan. 11, 52,318 vaccine doses had been administered in Alberta.