question period — Health

COVID -19 Vaccine Rollout

March 26, 2021


Hon. Donald Neil Plett (Leader of the Opposition)
[11:33]

Honourable senators, I am amazed at how many top priorities this government has where they are doing absolutely nothing. And I also find it shameful that the government cannot answer a question when clearly this is a partisan issue, when we have Canadians jailed in China. That is partisan. That is very partisan.

However, my question today concerns the recommendation to delay the second COVID-19 vaccine for four months — again a partisan question on behalf of Canadians.

Last March, I raised with Minister Hajdu the concerns of a young woman in Ontario with cancer who was dealing with changes in her care due to the pandemic. While her doctors say she cannot currently take the vaccine, she’s concerned about what a delay of four months between doses means for other cancer patients.

A study from King’s College in the U.K. has found that 95% of cancer patients who received the second Pfizer vaccine three weeks after their first shot developed strong antibody responses. However, when the second shot was delayed by more than three weeks, this fell to 43% and just 8% for blood cancer patients.

Leader, she and we would like to know how your government justifies delaying the second dose of COVID-19 vaccines for cancer patients against manufacturers’ advice, and please, give us something other than that this is your “top priority.”

Hon. Marc Gold (Government Representative in the Senate)
[11:34]

Honourable colleagues, the government makes its decisions based upon the scientific advice it gets from health care professionals, its advisory committees and upon the experience that is being accumulated on an ongoing basis from real-life experiences in the world. The government remains committed to vaccinating as many Canadians as quickly as possible to protect us from the virus and its variants.

[11:35]

Leader, the government deemed people with pre-existing conditions such as cancer highly vulnerable to COVID-19, and now the same government is telling cancer patients they have to take vaccines in a manner not recommended by the manufacturers.

This is troubling, leader. Last week I raised the concerns of Canada’s Chief Science Advisor, Dr. Mona Nemer, about the four-month delay. On Monday, she told CTV the people we want to protect the most, the elderly and the immune compromised, should not have their second dose delayed. Dr. Nemer said the research doesn’t support this and she believes the one-size-fits-all approach needs to change.

Leader, the four-month delay was based not on scientific advice but solely on your government’s poor vaccine supplies. If the vaccine delivery issues are behind us, why should Canada’s elderly and cancer patients have to wait four months between vaccine doses?

Senator Gold
[11:36]

Honourable colleagues, as I have maintained regularly in this chamber — but I will say it again — responsibility for what doses are given over what period of time is an exclusive jurisdiction of the provinces. Indeed, each of the provinces has taken a different position with regard to who is vaccinated first and when the second vaccine will come. It is an important feature of our Constitution and our federation that areas within provincial jurisdiction are given respect. Health happens to be one of them.