POLITICS
11/29/2020 16:49 EST

O'Toole: Liberals Focused Too Much On Failed Chinese CanSino COVID-19 Vaccine Trial

“I would not have put all our eggs in the basket of China,” the Conservative leader said.

The Canadian Press
Conservative Leader Erin O'Toole speaks during a news conference on the government's planned Fall Economic Statement on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, on Sunday.

OTTAWA — Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole accused the Liberal government Sunday of putting too much emphasis on partnering with a Chinese company for a COVID-19 vaccine in what turned out to be a failed deal.

O’Toole said the Trudeau government only turned its attention to pre-ordering tens of millions of vaccine doses from companies such as Pfizer and Moderna in August after its collaboration between the National Research Council and Chinese vaccine-maker CanSino finally collapsed after months of delays.

The Council had issued CanSino a license to use a Canadian biological product as part of a COVID-19 vaccine. CanSino was supposed to provide samples of the vaccine for clinical trials at the Canadian Centre for Vaccinology at Dalhousie University, but the Chinese government blocked the shipments.

“I would not have put all our eggs in the basket of China,” O’Toole said at a morning news conference.

“If you look at the timeline, that’s when Canada started getting serious with Pfizer, Moderna, the other options,” he added.

“So that’s very concerning that in the midst of a pandemic, where we had already had early questions about the transparency of China, that the Trudeau government was willing to almost double down on partnering with China.”

The Canadian Press
Conservative Leader Erin O'Toole speaks during a news conference on the government's planned Fall Economic Statement on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, on Sunday.

The government announced its major vaccine purchases in August after it confirmed the CanSino partnership had fallen through. At the time, it said its decision had come after careful consultations with its vaccine task force of health experts.

The CanSino partnership with Dalhousie predated the deep freeze in Canada-China relations that occurred after the People’s Republic imprisoned two Canadian men, Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, in apparent retaliation for the RCMP’s arrest of Chinese high-tech executive Meng Wanzhou nearly two years ago on an American extradition warrant.

This past week, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau created a firestorm when he said Canadians will have to wait a bit to get vaccinated for COVID-19 because the first doses off the production lines will be used in the countries where they are made.

In the face of mounting questions about the CanSino deal, Trudeau continued to defend his government’s vaccine procurement policy, which he says has secured multiple options for the country. Trudeau also appointed a Canadian Forces general to lead the logistics of an eventual vaccine rollout with the Public Health Agency of Canada. 

The chairman of American vaccine maker Moderna told the CBC on Sunday that Canada is near the front of the line to receive 20 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine it pre-ordered.

Noubar Afeyan was asked on CBC’s Rosemary Barton Live whether the fact that Canada committed to pre-purchase its doses before other jurisdictions means it will get its supply first.

Afeyan confirmed that was the case.

“The people who are willing to move early on with even less proof of the efficacy have assured the amount of supply they were willing to sign up to,” he said.

“In the case of Canada, that number is about 20 million doses. But the Canadian government, like others, have also reserved the ability to increase that amount. And those discussions are ongoing,” he added.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 29, 2020.