Published On: Thu, Feb 18th, 2021

EU vaccine row: Canadians turn on Justin Trudeau as bloc under fire over shipment dispute | World | News

Justin Trudeau faces questions on Canada’s vaccine supply

Mr Trudeau recently held emergency talks with EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen over concerns that the bloc’s export controls could inhibit Canada’s access to COVID-19 vaccines. The showdown followed reports that the EU had hindered vaccine developer Moderna’s attempts to send supplies outside of the bloc. The current Brussels scheme means vaccine manufacturers must submit export information for approval before shipping jabs abroad — prompting fears that EU officials could halt crucial shipments if the bloc’s own supplies are getting too low.

However, Ms von der Leyen promised Ottawa that the EU would not be blocking any vaccine exports to Canada, after Mr Trudeau emphasised the need for “timely vaccine shipments in order to meet vaccination goals”.

The Canadian premiere’s warning to the EU came as Mr Trudeau himself was fielding substantial criticism while his nation trails its allies in its vaccine rollout.

Canada has vaccinated the public at a rate of just 3.46 per 100 people, compared to 23.75 in the UK and 16.51 in the US.

A new survey conducted by Leger and the Association for Canadian Studies has revealed the Canadian public blame not export controls from the EU but Mr Trudeau himself for the delayed vaccine rollout.

The survey — conducted between February 12 and February 14 — had 1,535 Canadian respondents.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen (Image: Getty)

Canada is trailing in its vaccine rollout compared to other developed nations

Canada is trailing in its vaccine rollout compared to other developed nations (Image: Express)

Sixty-nine percent claimed it was Ottawa who was responsible for the slow vaccine rollout out, due to federal challenges, while just 14 percent of respondents blamed the provincial governments.

Even so, Mr Trudeau has promised all Canadians who want a dose will be able to get one by the end of September.

This ambitious claim also left 51 percent of the population sceptical that this is an achievable goal, according to the new survey.

Canada has purchased enough vaccines to cover its population almost four times over according to CNN, meaning it has one of the highest per-capita supplies of vaccines in the world, but Ottawa’s main problem is developing the promised quantities of the jabs.

The vaccine woes in Canada can be traced back to the absence of domestic production capacity in the country — all of Ottawa’s requests to licence domestic manufacturing have been rejected by drug companies.

A new facility is currently being developed, but will not be operational until next year.

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Trudeau issued a warning to von der Leyen over Brussels' export controls

Trudeau issued a warning to von der Leyen over Brussels’ export controls (Image: PA)

In the meantime, delays from Moderna and Pfizer have delivered a huge blow to Canada in its race to vaccinate the nation.

Vaccine developer Pfizer-BioNTech just cut Canada’s deliveries by more than two-thirds in the space of a month while expanding its production sites in Belgium.

Moderna fell short of expected doses at the start of the month as well, and will only deliver two-thirds of its promised doses next week.

But, it has agreed to deliver 1.3 million doses by the end of March, while Pfizer has committed to delivering 3.1 million in the same period.

Mr Trudeau has also been at the centre of criticism about Canada’s decision to draw on Covax — an initiative created to help distribute vaccines around the world fairly by using advance purchases by wealthy nations to subsidise doses for poorer countries.

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von der Leyen promised that the EU export controls would not hinder Canada's access to vaccines

von der Leyen promised that the EU export controls would not hinder Canada’s access to vaccines (Image: Getty)

Trudeau has come under fire for Canada's approach to the vaccination process

Trudeau has come under fire for Canada’s approach to the vaccination process (Image: Express)

Canada intends to use the mechanism to access the AstraZeneca vaccine, even though Ottawa had already completely direct deals with pharmaceutical companies to secure its own supply.

Professor Jillian Kohler, who specialises in global access to medicine at Toronto University, told The Guardian: “Turning to Covax demonstrates the desperation of the Trudeau government in terms of its vaccine policy.

“Taking [vaccine supply] from a multilateral institution that was designed particularly to help the world’s poor is shocking and an embarrassment.”

Canada Health has not yet given the green light to the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, despite signalling more than two weeks ago that it was ready to make a decision on the jab.

If Health Canada approves the vaccine, almost half a million doses could be heading to Canada in March.

Canada is behind both the UK and the US in its vaccinations

Canada is behind both the UK and the US in its vaccinations (Image: Getty)

Even so, the use of Covax has triggered accusations that Canada is exercising vaccine nationalism.

The EU faced similar criticism after it temporarily invoked an emergency clause to prevent unimpeded vaccine supplies crossing from the bloc into the UK.

Discussing the results of the survey, Leger’s executive Vice President Christian Bourque explained: “People haven’t given up hope that we will get there, but they’re certainly looking for answers.

“A lot of what we hear is that Canada is falling behind.

“When people hear that, they automatically think it’s got to be something going on in Ottawa more than in my province.”

Canadian research centre, The Angus Reid Institute, also found that confidence in the rollout and Mr Trudeau’s government dropped nearly 10 points over the last two months.

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