Trudeau 'concerned' by latest threat to vaccine supply from EU

·4 min read
Trudeau 'concerned' by latest threat to vaccine supply from EU
FedEx workers offload a plane carrying 255,600 doses of the Moderna COVID‑19 vaccine from Europe at Pearson International Airport in Toronto on Wednesday, March 24, 2021. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press - image credit)
FedEx workers offload a plane carrying 255,600 doses of the Moderna COVID‑19 vaccine from Europe at Pearson International Airport in Toronto on Wednesday, March 24, 2021. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press - image credit)

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said today he is "concerned" by the threat of export restrictions being imposed by the European Union, but insisted his government would work hard to ensure vaccine doses continue to flow into Canada.

"We are concerned with the new reports of restrictions out of the EU — or potential restrictions out of the EU — and we will be continuing to work with our counterparts, including direct contact from me to the highest levels of the European Commission, in order to ensure that Canada's supply of vaccines is not in danger, is not interrupted," Trudeau told the House of Commons today.

The prime minister was responding to the Commission's plans to strengthen existing export controls that would require evaluation of export licences for vaccines based on two factors: the destination country's vaccination rates and their willingness to export vaccines, or the raw materials to produce them, to the EU.

The proposed new measures will be discussed Thursday by EU leaders and will come into effect unless they are opposed by a "qualified majority" of member states — 55 per cent of EU member states representing 65 per cent of the EU's population.

WATCH | Trudeau concerned about latest threat to vaccine supply:

"Today, the EU has strengthened the COVID-19 vaccines export transparency and authorization mechanism to preserve the security of our supply chains by introducing the principles of reciprocity and proportionality as additional criteria to be considered before authorizing exports," an EU spokesperson said in a statement.

"This is not an export ban. It is about making sure that Europe gets its due share of vaccines and inviting other countries to open up for exports."

Trudeau said he was also paying close attention to reports that India has put a temporary hold on all major exports of the AstraZeneca vaccine made by the Serum Institute of India in order for that country to meet domestic demands.

Canada has an agreement with the Serum Institute for two million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine, but has so far received only 500,000 of those.

"At this point we have no indications that the two million doses we will be receiving from the Serum Institute over the coming two months will in any way be affected and we will continue to ensure that that be the case," Trudeau told the Commons today.

Pfizer is deeply concerned by any legislation that threatens our ability to manufacture in, or export from, the European Union. - Christina Antoniou, Pfizer's director of corporate affairs

Deputy High Commissioner for India in Canada Anshuman Gaur told CBC News that his country has shipped more than 60 million doses of vaccines to more than 75 countries but India's production capacity is dependent on a supply of raw materials.

"Some major suppliers in the West have banned the export of vaccines and also of raw materials," he said, adding that the delivery schedule for the remaining 1.5 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine destined for Canada currently "remains under discussion."

EU calls for 'reciprocity'

The EU said that since January 30, it has granted 380 export requests to 33 different countries for shipments of 43 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines out of the EU, including 6.6 million to Canada.

"It has always been our intention to keep export restrictions to an absolute minimum," an EU spokesperson said in a media statement.

"Vaccine exports from the EU to Canada are still subject to an authorization request. Under the strengthened rules, introduced today, export authorizations should be granted where they do not pose a threat to the security of supply of vaccines and their components in the [EU] while also considering reciprocity and proportionality."

A spokesperson for Pfizer told CBC News it's too early to determine how or if Canada will be affected by the EU's move Wednesday to further restrict exports of its Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine from Europe.

"Pfizer is deeply concerned by any legislation that threatens our ability to manufacture in, or export from, the European Union," said Christina Antoniou, Pfizer's director of corporate affairs.

"We are working closely with governments around the world to continue to meet our commitments and ensure the supply of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine in accordance with the agreed schedules."

Watch: Mary Ng says there's "no reason to believe" that there will be a delay in shipments of vaccine doses:

Speaking to CBC News Network's Power and Politics today, International Trade Minister Mary Ng couldn't state that she has assurances from the EU and India that vaccine doses will continue to flow, but insisted her government is working to ensure supply lines remain open.

"I want to reassure Canadians that we're absolutely on track to get the vaccines here into Canada. We're expecting 9.5 million by the end of March and we're on track to do that," Ng told host Vassy Kapelos.

You can watch full episodes of Power & Politics on CBC Gem, the CBC's streaming service.