Manitoba premier defends deal to buy Canadian-made vaccines that may not be ready this year

Premier Brian Pallister acknowledged Wednesday the doses Manitoba has agreed to buy from Providence Therapeutics — for a vaccine that has yet to be approved by Health Canada — may not help with supply shortages this year, but he says it will be ready for 2022.

Brian Pallister says $18 per dose price better than the 'rumour' he's heard about Ottawa's contracts

Premier Brian Pallister says the province's deal with Providence Therapeutics for COVID-19 vaccines is worth $36 million. Manitoba will pay $18 per dose, the premier said at a Wednesday news conference. (Gary Solilak/CBC)

Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister is defending his deal with a Canadian supplier for COVID-19 vaccines that might not be ready this year.

The premier acknowledged the doses Manitoba has agreed to buy from Providence Therapeutics — for a vaccine that has yet to be approved by Health Canada — may not help with supply shortages this year, but he says it will be ready for 2022. He said Manitobans may need booster shots by then.

"I would not underplay the reality that we are putting capital at risk here," Pallister said.

"But there's a risk in not doing this, too, and we're seeing that and we're paying the price for that in terms of delays in getting vaccines to Canadians."

The premier, saying he cannot sit back while a shortage in vaccine supply persists, took issue with comments from a leader of a task force advising the federal government on COVID-19 vaccine procurement who asked for patience from Canadians.

"We sometimes have to wait and be patient," Dr. Joanne Langley said in an interview last week with CBC. "But making a fuss about it does not solve the problem," the task force co-chair said.

"I'm less about making a fuss than making solutions," Pallister said Wednesday.

WATCH | Brian Pallister defends vaccine decision: Feb. 17, 2021:

Manitoba's premier defends vaccine decision

2 years ago
Duration 38:59
Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister gives an update on Providence Therapeutics vaccine deal.

Manitoba getting the best price, Pallister says

Pallister said the province's deal with Providence Therapeutics is worth $36 million. Manitoba will pay $18 per dose, which he believes is less per dose than the "rumour" he's heard regarding Ottawa's contracts. 

A summary of the proposed terms of the agreement with Providence says Manitoba will make a 20 per cent ($7.2 million) non-refundable down payment.

The province will pay another 40 per cent of the total cost when and if the vaccine is approved by Health Canada and the remaining 40 per cent of the cost upon delivery of the product.

"The point isn't what the price is when there's no vaccines here, the point is to create a situation where there can be vaccines here," said Pallister, who promised to release the terms of the contract once it is signed.

The premier said his government's actions don't mean that Manitoba isn't supportive of Ottawa's efforts to procure vaccines, but it shows the mistake in relying on foreign countries to supply vaccines for Canada.

"All of us are supportive of the federal government's efforts. All of us are cheering for the federal government, in fact. But right now, it is an honest observation to say that we are forced to wait," he said.

"We should not be patient. Real lives are at risk here."

The deal with Providence Therapeutics, a Calgary-based biotechnology company, will provide Manitoba with two million vaccine doses. Additional supply will be shared with other provinces if they make orders.

Manitoba NDP Leader Wab Kinew argued Pallister would be better off if Manitoba helped to fund a publicly owned vaccine manufacturer in Canada rather than investing in a private firm whose vaccine may never be approved.

Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont said Manitoba is wasting its time using an untested firm that's so far underfunded. Providence Therapeutics has been asking Ottawa for a $150 million investment, which it hasn't received.

Providence has just started putting its vaccine through human clinical trials. The company has purchased a 20,000-square-foot site in Calgary to produce the product.

Manitoba is the first province to ink a deal to directly buy a COVID-19 vaccine. The federal government assumed responsibility for vaccine purchasing, and made deals to buy the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines already in distribution across Canada.

Earlier in the day, Manitoba's vaccine task force announced it was going ahead with setting up two more large immunization centres — in Selkirk and the Morden-Winkler area, even as supply issues linger.

Due to the current vaccine shortages, only one of the operating supersites — the one in downtown Thompson — was open as of Wednesday, the province said.

The locations in Winnipeg and Brandon will remain closed until Thursday.

Pallister warns Liberals over election

Pallister also took the opportunity to warn the Trudeau government it will face logistical hurdles if the federal Liberals choose to hold an election this year.

"I want to be very, very clear to them and to the people of Manitoba that should the federal government decide that it wants to call an election this spring, Manitoba schools will most certainly not be made available for polling stations," he said.

The premier said he feared the spread of COVID-19 in Manitoba schools if their gyms are used as polling stations.

The province does not, however, have the power to stop a federal election.

With files from Bartley Kives