Canada is finalizing a deal with the United States, which if agreed to would see 1.5 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine sent to Canada as early as by the end of the month, under a loan agreement.
Officials on both sides of the border confirmed the news Thursday, after it was first reported by Reuters.
“After numerous discussions with the Biden administration, Canada is in the process of finalizing an exchange agreement to receive 1.5 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine from the United States,” said Procurement Minister Anita Anand in a statement, pledging more details on the delivery when the deal is done.
In an interview with us, Anand said she is anticipating the doses will be arriving this month, meaning that by the end of March, Canada should have a total of 9.5 million doses, up from the previous projection of 8 million doses total.
“We believe they’re coming very shortly, that’s been the content of our discussions thus far, but I have to stress that we are still finalizing the details,” Anand said. “We are working to expedite this process as quickly as possible, knowing that Canadians want vaccines.”
In total, the U.S. is looking to send four million of what White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki called “releasable” doses to Mexico and Canada, from a stockpile of seven million doses.
The AstraZeneca vaccine has not yet been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) but the regulatory agencies in Canada and Mexico have given it the green light, and U.S. President Joe Biden’s two North American neighbours have been pushing for more supply to immunize their populations quicker.
“Balancing the need to let the approval process play out of the AstraZeneca vaccine as it’s taking place in the U.S., with the importance of helping stop the spread in other countries, we are assessing how we can loan doses,” Psaki told reporters during a briefing in Washington, D.C. on Thursday.
“It is not fully finalized yet, but that is our aim,” she said, adding that the Biden administration’s priority remains ensuring the supply is there to vaccinate all American adults by the end of May, though that’s a target that country is set to be able to hit without doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine.
The expectation is that as part of agreement, Canada and Mexico would pay the U.S. back with doses in return, in the months ahead.
“The conversation has been about the United States providing 1.5 million doses now, and then when we receive our 20 million doses of AstraZeneca that we are entitled to under a bilateral agreement with AstraZeneca, we will then exchange that back and provide 1.5 million back to the United States,” Anand said, crediting this deal to the ongoing conversations at the federal level.
“God Bless America. They’re coming to our rescue,” said Ontario Premier Doug Ford at a press conference Thursday. “Bring it on… I’ll drive down there in my pickup and pick them up if we have to.”
Confirmation of these dose-sharing talks came after federal officials leading Canada’s national vaccine rollout dodged questions about when AstraZeneca doses would be arriving from the U.S. and whether Canadians should be concerned that the United States was holding back shipments, given the majority of doses of this vaccine destined for Canada will come from a U.S. AstraZeneca facility.
“Right now, we have very strong relationships with the United States. We’re in discussions and we will give an update once we have further information,” was the response from Joelle Paquette, the director general responsible for vaccine procurement at Public Services and Procurement Canada.
Canada has a contract for 20 million AstraZeneca doses through an agreement for the shots developed in partnership with Oxford University and coming from the U.S. between April and September. Anand said Thursday that AstraZeneca will be providing the delivery schedule for the 20 million doses soon. A separate agreement will see two million doses come to Canada from the Serum Institute in India as well as another 1.9 million doses that are expected to be sent to Canada through the COVAX program in the coming months.
So far, 500,000 AstraZeneca doses have arrived in Canada from the Serum Institute.