The government of Canada has signed deals to purchase COVID-19 vaccines from four pharmaceutical companies when their vaccines are approved to be given to the public. According to Canada’s Minister of Public Services and Procurement Anita Anand, the Canadian government has contracts with Janssen Pharmaceuticals (a subsidiary of Johnson & Johnson), Moderna, Novavax and Pfizer for up to 190 million doses of their experimental Ad26.COV2-S, mRNA-1273, NVX-CoV2373 and BNT162 vaccines. The government is also negotiating a possible contract with AstraZeneca for doses of its AZD1222 vaccine.1 2
All of the companies from which Canada plans to buy COVID-19 vaccines have received funding from the U.S. government “Operation Warp Speed” (OWS) program designed to accelerate development, production and delivery of a COVID-19 vaccine by January 2021. OWS is a public-private partnership involving the pharmaceutical industry, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH), and the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) and the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD).1 2 3
Vaccination is a Personal Choice in Canada
“In short, when a vaccine is ready, Canada will be ready,” Anand said. “We are prepared to protect Canadians who choose to be vaccinated.”1
It is not clear, however, which, if any, of the five companies will have a vaccine ready to be put on the market this year. In an interview with CBC/Radio-Canada, Michael Gardam, MD of Women’s College Hospital in Toronto, Canada acknowledged, “What we don’t know, of course, is which vaccines are going to be effective. We don’t know which company ultimately is going to have the best vaccine and the safest vaccine.” Dr. Gardam thinks the Canadian government is “just kind of playing the field… to make sure they have a reasonable chance that one of these will be successful.”2
One of the questions regarding COVID-19 vaccines when they are available has to do with whether governments will mandate that all citizens get vaccinated. Anand’s comments suggest that Canadians will not be legally required to get vaccinated against COVID-19. This position appears to be backed by Canada’s Minister of Health Patty Hajdu, who said.
We believe that people have a choice in Canada about whether or not to be vaccinated. But we also believe we have an important responsibility as Canadians to take vaccinations to protect our communities.1
Recently, Kelvin Goertzen, Minister of Education for the province of Manitoba, said, “For those who refuse to get a vaccine, that is absolutely your right! And it should be protected.” He added, “While I personally support vaccination, I also believe that vaccination should be a personal choice. There has never been a mandatory vaccine in Canada federally or provincially.”4
Anand Kumar, MD, professor of medicine at the University of Manitoba believes a COVID-19 should only be mandated if there is no other option. “If the vaccine is highly effective, like a lot of the childhood vaccines—mumps, measles, rubella, etc.—then the fraction of Canadians that surveys suggest would take the vaccine is actually over 80, 85 percent,” Dr. Kumar said. “That’s sufficiently high that mandatory vaccination would likely not be necessary.”4
1 Canadian Press. Update: Canada has contracts for up to four COVID-19 vaccines but they won’t be mandatory. Mountain View Today Aug. 31, 2020.
2 Chung E. A closer look at the vaccines Canada is betting on to stem the spread of COVID-19 CBC Sept. 2, 2020.
3 Press Release. Fact Sheet: Explaining Operation Warp Speed. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services June 16, 2020.
4 Grabish A. Manitoba’s education minister under fire for comments on right to refuse vaccines in midst of pandemic. CBC Sept. 4, 2020.