Ottawa chose not to exercise option to buy 16 million more doses of Moderna vaccine

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Ottawa chose not to exercise option to buy 16 million more doses of Moderna vaccine

The federal government has chosen not to exercise its option to buy up to 16 million more doses of Moderna's COVID-19 vaccine, Procurement Minister Anita Anand's office told CBC News late Sunday.

Ottawa initially ordered 20 million doses of the Moderna vaccine, with an option to receive up to 56 million total. In December, the federal government announced it had exercised its option for an additional 20 million doses.

But the chance to buy up to 16 million more doses has now expired, the department said today. The government has not disclosed the terms of those options.

Despite this, Procurement Minister Anita Anand says Canada doesn't need to approve additional vaccine candidates to meet its goal of inoculating everyone who wants a COVID-19 shot by September. She also said that target could be reached ahead of schedule.

Canada gave the green light to Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna's messenger RNA vaccines last month, but independent regulators are still reviewing other candidates, such as the AstraZeneca-Oxford product.

WATCH | Ottawa chose not to exercise option to buy more doses of Moderna's COVID-19 vaccine:

"Prior to Christmas ... we exercised 20 million options of Moderna. So that allows us to have 40 million doses of Moderna now in addition to our 20 million Pfizer doses," Anand said on Sunday in an interview on Rosemary Barton Live. "That allows us to hit about 30 million Canadians."

Both vaccines must be administered twice, although the Moderna vaccine does not require the same cold-storage conditions as the Pfizer-BioNTech product.

"We will be on track, without doubt, to ensure inoculations for all Canadians who want it by the end of September, if not sooner," Anand told CBC Chief Political Correspondent Rosemary Barton.

"That is the goal that I am pursuing every single day, moving up that end of September timeline so that we can see ourselves through to the other side of this pandemic as quickly as possible."

Under the contract it has signed, Ottawa can still receive up to 56 million more doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, with discussions ongoing to exercise that agreement.

"The key for us in the exercise of options is the early delivery of doses to Canada," Anand said. "That was what motivated us to exercise the 20 million Moderna options prior to the holidays."

Evan Mitsui/CBC
Evan Mitsui/CBC

Calls to approve other candidates

The minister's comments come as Ottawa and the provinces butt heads over the pace of Canada's vaccine rollout.

On Tuesday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he was frustrated to hear that vaccines were piling up in freezers instead of being given to Canadians, while a growing number of provinces maintain they have the ability to administer many more doses than their supplies allow.

The prime minister convened a virtual meeting with Canada's premiers Thursday night, where participants agreed to "work together as team Canada to get vaccines distributed and administered as quickly and efficiently as possible," Trudeau said.

While the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna products may be enough to hit Canada's September target, it doesn't mean the federal government will halt its review and potential approval of other options.

"I'm going to ask Health Canada again, 'Please approve AstraZeneca. We're in desperate need of it,'" Ontario Premier Doug Ford said Friday, acknowledging that Trudeau has been "working his back off" to distribute vaccines.

Rick Hillier, the retired general leading Ontario's vaccine rollout, also told CBC Radio's The House that he was urging the federal government to approve the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine and other candidates.

New vaccine tracking platform on the way

Anand acknowledged that Canada needs to "accelerate" vaccine deliveries given that other countries are competing for the same doses.

"But by the same token, there are peer countries that haven't begun vaccinating at all — Australia for example," she said.

The minister also revealed that the federal government will announce this week its efforts to establish a new technology system to track and manage the distribution of vaccines across the country.

According to documents obtained by the Globe and Mail, the platform is intended to assist provinces in placing orders and tracking adverse effects. The government issued a request for proposals to seven suppliers in December seeking to build such a system.

CBC News has learned from industry sources briefed on the decision that consulting firm Deloitte is the winning company behind the request.

Anand's department confirmed to CBC that Deloitte was awarded the contract, which is valued at more than $16 million, on Jan. 7.

"The goal of this additional procurement was to enhance the capabilities across the country to ensure that we have the most seamless IT system possible as we go through this complex period in our country's history," Anand said.