TORONTO — The federal government is shooting down Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s suggestion that made-in-Canada vaccines could be available more quickly if production was done in Ontario instead of Quebec.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Tuesday that U.S. company Novavax will produce its COVID-19 vaccine in Montreal if it gets approved. But the production facility is still under construction and won’t be finished until late summer. Then it has to be certified.
Minister François-Philippe Champagne said production would be possible “at the end of the year.”
Ford said he hopes all Ontarians will have already been vaccinated by that time. He said he didn’t want to be an “armchair quarterback” but offered some thoughts anyway.
“If you would’ve come to Ontario, we have a building. We have endless buildings,” the premier said at a press conference in Toronto.
“If you would’ve come to Ontario, we have a building. We have endless buildings.”
“It would be a lot easier. Just come over, set up the line, and hopefully we’d be able to get them in a month or two, rather than build a new building.”
It’s really not that simple, according to a federal official who spoke on background to HuffPost Canada. There aren’t any existing facilities big enough, the official said, and switching production from one type of vaccine to another is not a simple process.
Ford’s spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for more information about the premier’s comments.
Trudeau said he still plans for all willing Canadians to be vaccinated by September. But the Novavax vaccines may be needed to fight new variants of COVID-19 or new viruses that emerge.
“We don’t know what the future looks like a year from now, two years from now, three years from now,” the prime minister said.
Ford has brought up issues with vaccine supply in recent weeks. When it was announced that Canada wouldn’t get any Pfizer doses in the last week of January, Ford said he would be “up that [Pfizer CEO]’s ying yang … with a firecracker,” if he were prime minister.
Ontario officials told reporters Tuesday they’ve had to push back vaccinations for some vulnerable seniors because of ongoing supply issues.
The province originally planned to have first doses given out to residents of all long-term care homes, high-risk retirement homes and First Nations elder care homes by Feb. 5. That’s been pushed back to Feb. 10.
“I’ll be honest, the shipment delays with the Pfizer vaccine have been incredibly disappointing,” Ford said. “And to be told on Friday that we would receive 18,200 less doses of the Moderna vaccine [this week], I can’t stress how frustrating that is.”
Retired Gen. Rick Hillier, who’s leading Ontario’s vaccine distribution, said there are facilities in Toronto and Guelph, Ont. that could do mass vaccinations but are sitting empty.
“We’ve lost confidence in the supply chain,” he said.
Meanwhile, Ford’s opposition at Queen’s Park says it’s his government that’s fumbling the vaccine rollout.
Ontario should’ve given all of its initial supply to residents in long-term care, Liberal MPP and health critic John Fraser said in a statement Tuesday. These residents make up 57 per cent of the 6,238 Ontarians who’ve died of COVID-19.
People are still dying in these homes, Fraser pointed out.
“The Premier said when the vaccines arrived, we’d be ready. Clearly that hasn’t been the case. Doug Ford can point figures all he likes. It was his government’s failure to be decisive and act quickly that has made the tragedy in Long-Term Care so much worse.”
With files from The Canadian Press