question period — Health

COVID-19 Vaccine

March 16, 2021


Hon. Jean-Guy Dagenais
[14:50]

My question is for the Government Representative in the Senate. The list of European countries that have suspended the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine is growing. It’s now up to roughly 20 countries, including the four largest on the continent. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Trudeau continues to say that there is no danger to Canadians, noting that our AstraZeneca vaccines do not come from what he called the same batch. That response does not sound very scientific to me.

Something else really concerns me. Health Canada is normally weeks if not months behind the United States when it comes to approving some health products. However, in the case of AstraZeneca, the United States hasn’t approved this vaccine yet, and AstraZeneca won’t even be submitting the reports needed to secure approval until April.

Leader, can you assure us that the Prime Minister isn’t taking any risks in order to boost his political image as a great vaccinator? On what scientific basis did we approve this vaccine, one that the U.S. still refuses to declare safe for its population?

Hon. Marc Gold (Government Representative in the Senate)
[14:51]

Thank you for your question. Vaccine safety is a matter of the utmost importance. The Government of Canada makes decisions based on scientific evidence and the advice of its scientific advisers. According to the information available and the advice provided, the AstraZeneca vaccine is considered safe. Today we learned that, according to the first European study on the blood clot issue, millions of doses of this vaccine have already been administered, most of them in England. Apparently, there is no link between the blood clot issue and the vaccine. We will soon be getting the results of further investigation into the issue.

According to information provided by scientists, there is no connection and no risk in Canada or elsewhere. All Canadian authorities have stressed the risk-benefit balance. Based on scientific advice, every authority in the country, including the Premier of Quebec and the Prime Minister of Canada, is encouraging Canadians to trust these vaccines and all vaccines available in Canada.

Senator Dagenais
[14:53]

I will repeat what the Prime Minister said. He said that the vaccines destined for Canada were not from the same batch. Do you honestly believe that AstraZeneca developed a different vaccine for Europe than the one it is offering to Canada and the United States? The U.S. is still waiting for more information before approving this vaccine.

Senator Gold
[14:54]

Thank you for the question. We’re not talking about a different vaccine. There isn’t even any evidence to confirm that there was a problem with the vaccine. Apparently, there is an approximately 20% higher risk that people with COVID-19 will develop this blood problem. Further research is currently under way. It’s only natural for authorities to take the time to ensure the vaccine is safe. That’s what Canada did. In fact, the government was previously criticized for not approving the vaccine as quickly as other countries. You can’t have it both ways. Here in Canada, we are taking our time and focusing on our scientific skills and abilities in order to make appropriate decisions for Canadians.

[14:55]

My question is on the same subject. Can you confirm that Canada is not currently negotiating with AstraZeneca to increase the number of doses we are receiving? Can you confirm that Canada is not taking advantage of the cancellations in Europe to buy surpluses of this vaccine, which Europeans do not necessarily feel is safe, and importing them here in order to vaccinate Canadians?

Senator Gold
[14:56]

Thank you for your question. Every day, the Minister of Public Services and Procurement works with her team to make sure Canada can get the vaccines it needs to protect the population as quickly as possible. I do not have any information about any negotiations on the issue that you talked about, but please believe me when I say that the well-being of Canadians is at the heart of the decisions our government makes. Any vaccine that is to be purchased by Canada and distributed within our country must undergo rigorous, independent testing by Health Canada. Believe me when I say that the government is working 24-7 to protect us.