This undated photo issued by the University of Oxford shows of vial of coronavirus vaccine developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford University, in Oxford, England. (University of Oxford/John Cairns via AP)

This undated photo issued by the University of Oxford shows of vial of coronavirus vaccine developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford University, in Oxford, England. (University of Oxford/John Cairns via AP)

Canada can make vaccines, just not the ones leading the COVID-19 race

Canada has spent more than $1 billion to pre-order seven different developing COVID-19 vaccines

The head of a Canadian biotech industry association says Canada can and does make vaccines — just not the ones expected first to help stop the COVID-19 pandemic.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau created a firestorm Tuesday 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.

So while vaccinations might start next month in the United States, the United Kingdom and Germany, it will be January at the earliest before any doses are injected in this country.

Canada, said Trudeau, “no longer has any domestic production capacity for vaccines” and it makes sense that the countries that do will prioritize their own citizens.

Andrew Casey, the CEO of BioteCanada, told The Canadian Press Wednesday that Canada does produce vaccines but the technology for the leading COVID-19 vaccine candidates is so new, the manufacturing capacity is being built alongside the vaccines themselves.

“This is the first time the technology has actually been applied,” he said. “So you have to then build the facility to manufacture at scale, which is a challenge.”

While pharmaceutical company Sanofi has a vaccine plant in Toronto and GlaxoSmithKline has one in Quebec, both make protein-based vaccines, such as the more familiar ones Canadians get every year for the flu.

Canada has spent more than $1 billion to pre-order seven different developing COVID-19 vaccines, and only one being developed jointly by Sanofi and GlaxoSmithKline uses the protein technology.

The first two vaccines expected on the market, from Pfizer and Moderna, each use genetic material known as messenger ribonucleic acid or mRNA. A third with promising trial results, from AstraZeneca, uses a modified common-cold virus that normally infects chimpanzees. Each type trains the human body to develop antibodies to SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.

Casey said a protein-vaccine maker can’t just start making the bioengineered vaccines.

“One is like making wine, one’s like making Coke,” he said. “Yes, they both grow in bottles. Yes, you can drink both out of a glass. But the manufacturing processes used for the two is so completely different. You can’t just say well, we’ll shut down the protein one, and we’ll switch over to the mRNA.”

READ MORE: Canada’s inability to manufacture vaccines in-house will delay distribution: Trudeau

Conservative health critic Michelle Rempel Garner demanded in question period Wednesday that the government explain whether Canada had even tried to convince the companies to make their products here.

Trudeau didn’t answer, but if those negotiations happened, they have not been successful.

Pfizer is expanding production facilities in Kalamazoo, Mich. and Puurs, Belgium to produce most of its vaccine. The company has said it is open to others manufacturing it, but that the technology is difficult to transfer.

Moderna has a 10-year exclusive agreement with Swiss-based Lonza Group AC to make its vaccine, mainly in facilities in New Hampshire and Switzerland. Lonza chairman Albert Baehny said earlier this month the new technology meant Lonza had to remake its production lines “from scratch.”

AstraZeneca, which has promised three billion doses of its vaccine, has signed contract deals with at least two dozen manufacturers around the world to produce its vaccine but not in Canada.

A spokesman for Innovation Minister Navdeep Bains said the biomanufacturing sector has been declining in Canada since the mid-1980s.

“When this pandemic began Canada had no flexible, large-scale, bio-manufacturing capacity suitable for a COVID-19 vaccine,” said John Power.

He said Canada has been working with experts to address the issue and has made investments, including $140 million in a new National Research Council plant in Montreal.

The NRC said Wednesday the Biologics Manufacturing Centre will be finished next July. It doesn’t have an agreement yet to produce a specific vaccine, but is being built so it can produce several biologic vaccines, including of the type being made by AstraZeneca. It will not be able to make mRNA vaccines like those from Moderna or Pfizer.

It is supposed to be able to produce two million doses a month before the end of 2021.

A spokeswoman for GlaxoSmithKline told The Canadian Press the company’s Ste-Foy, Que., plant will be part of production of the GSK vaccine eventually but timelines and specifics aren’t yet available.

A Canadian-made vaccine from Quebec-based Medicago is also expected to be in production in Canada next year.

Medicago CEO Bruce Clark said the company has been able to adapt a vaccine for influenza to target COVID-19 instead, noting such an adaptation is one of the advantages of biologic vaccines. But Clark said one of the disadvantages is that it’s harder to transfer the technology of biologics to be made in other places.

Medicago has facilities in Quebec and North Carolina and is building a new one in Quebec. The existing ones can make about 50 million doses by the end of next year, while the new plant will be able to do as many as a billion annually.

The company has been talking to the federal government for years to get funding for a “full-scale manufacturing facility,” he said.

“We were not successful,” said Clark. “It’s really only been in the context of the pandemic that we’ve seen funds be freed up to commit to capacity in Canada.”

Last month Ottawa agreed to provide $173 million to Medicago for research on its vaccine and construction of an expanded facility. Clark said the 2023 completion date for the new plant could be bumped up with more money.

None of the vaccines in question have finished clinical trials and all must also be approved by Health Canada before they can be used here.

Mia Rabson, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

Coronavirusvaccines

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Jaimie Davis won received a Northwest Community College President’s Art Award in 2018. This year, she won the Best Solopreneur Award from Small Business BC for her online shop Jada Creations. (Contributed photo/Northwest Community College)
Terrace artist wins provincial small business award

Jaimie Davis of Jada Creations won BC Small Business’ Best Solopreneur Award

Chera Bergen (left) with her sisters Hali and Dylan Ouellet (not in the picture) raised money through a bottle drive in Terrace to buy essential supplies for a homeless shelter. (Binny Paul/ Terrace Standard)
Terrace sisters’ recycle drive raises money for homeless shelter

With the $1175 raised, Chera, Hali and Dylan bought essential supplies for Ksan Society

A memorial march takes place along Highway 16 also known as Canada’s ‘Highway of Tears’ on national day of awareness of Murdered & Missing Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG). Over five dozen people from nearby communities joined the march which began outside Terrace City Hall and ended at the memorial totem pole erected along Hwy 16, near Kitsumkalum. (Binny Paul/Terrace Standard)
‘City of Terrace can and should make spaces safer’: MMIWG activists

Activists called on governments to amplify safety net for women on national day of awareness of MMIWG

RCMP are reminding the public to be aware of their surroundings after a stabbing sent a man to hospital on May 4, 2021. (Black Press Media File Photo)
Terrace stabbing sends man to hospital

RCMP remind the public to be aware of surroundings

The construction site for the new Mills Memorial Hospital has been cleared. (Binny Paul/The Terrace Standard)
Bird nests key to decision to log hospital site in Terrace

Nests would have posed a risk of increasing costs

Protesters attempt to stop clear-cutting of old-growth trees in Fairy Creek near Port Renfrew. (Will O’Connell photo)
VIDEO: Workers, activists clash at site of Vancouver Island logging operation

Forest license holders asking for independent investigation into incident

Amazon is pausing its Prime Day marketing event in Canada this year amid ongoing COVID-19 outbreaks at its facilities in Ontario. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Amazon Prime Day halted in Canada due to COVID-19 outbreaks in warehouses

The postponement of the event was put in place to protect the health and safety of employees and customers, the company says

Ally Thomas, 12, seen in an undated family handout photo, died on April 14 from a suspected overdose. Her family says they are frustrated more public supports weren't available when they tried to get her help. THE CANADIAN PRESS
Minister says suspected overdose death of 12-year-old pushing B.C. to ‘do better’

Minister Sheila Malcolmson of Mental Health and Addictions says the government is working ‘as hard as we can’ to build a system of care for youths

At this Highway 3 check point, police officers will be asking for identification from drivers, documentation regarding the driver’s name and address, and the purpose for the driver’s travel. (RCMP)
No fines handed out at 1st COVID-19 roadblock as checks move across B.C.

Cpl. Chris Manseau says a total of 127 vehicles were stopped at a roadblock in the Manning Park area

A spectator looks on as the Olympic Caldron is relit in downtown Vancouver, Wednesday, February 12, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Small majority of B.C. residents in favour of a Vancouver 2030 Olympic bid: survey

A new survey shows a split over the possibility of public money being spent to organize and host the winter games

Junior A team Coquitlam Express is offering all Tri-City residents who get vaccinated against COVID-19 a free ticket to one of their games. (Facebook/Coquitlam Express)
B.C. hockey team offering free tickets to hometown fans who get the COVID-19 vaccine

‘We know the only way to get fans back is people getting vaccinated,’ says Express’ general manager Tali Campbell

Jobs Minister Ravi Kahlon speaks in the B.C. legislature, describing work underway to make a small business and tourism aid package less restrictive, Dec. 10, 2020. (Hansard TV)
B.C.’s latest COVID-19 restrictions cost thousands of service jobs

Part-time workers set back again by spike in virus spread

A sign indicating face coverings are required by the establishment is pictured on the front door of a business in Vancouver, B.C., Friday, April 9, 2021. COVID-19 cases have been on a steady increase in the province of British Columbia over the past week. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
A sign indicating face coverings are required by the establishment is pictured on the front door of a business in Vancouver, B.C., Friday, April 9, 2021. COVID-19 cases have been on a steady increase in the province of British Columbia over the past week. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Leaked report shows detailed B.C. COVID-19 data not being released to public

Documents obtained by the Vancouver Sun show cases broken down by neighbourhoods

Abbotsford school board trustee Phil Anderson has stepped down after sharing an offensive image on Facebook. (File photo)
Abbotsford trustee temporarily steps down after sharing post relating COVID masks to slavery

Phil Anderson to receive training to better understand provincial mask mandate after posting picture

Most Read