February 29, 2024

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Trudeau, Big Pharma and the Story Behind Canada’s Vaccine 

It was no doubt received as welcome news when Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau recently announced that there are now enough vaccines in reserve for the entire eligible Canadian population. Specifically, that amounts to sixty-six million doses, enough to fully vaccinate everyone in Canada aged twelve and older. “With enough doses for everyone” said Trudeau, “there’s no longer any excuse not to get your shot.”

Bringing Canada to this point has been a shipment of 3.6 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine and an additional 1.4 million doses of the Moderna vaccine. Canada still has to contend with the phenomenon of vaccine hesitancy, but assuming that this can be overcome, the country could well become a fully vaccinated by the end of September 2021.

That all sounds like excellent news then, but what Trudeau’s chipper pronouncements perhaps conceal is that fact that Canada’s path towards vaccination has been far from a steady one. Numerous setbacks and a complicated relationship between the Prime Minister and the country’s domestic pharmaceutical industry have characterized developments over the last year. Covid may have changed everything, but Trudeau’s relationship with the Canadian pharmaceutical industry and big pharma in general has been a rocky one. 

Reliance on Imports

Canada’s healthcare system is widely considered to be one of the world’s most progressive, and the country is particularly famous among citizens of its southern neighbor for the large numbers of Canadian drugs that are sold by reputable companies such as Canada Pharmacy.

However, nearly all Canadian pharmaceutical organizations are reliant on imports from overseas and a healthy relationship with the global pharmaceutical market. Some of the online pharmacies selling drugs to the U.S. even make use of brick-and-mortar pharmacies in other countries, such as Australia and the UK, in order to fill American prescriptions. Canada’s domestic pharmaceutical industry, for context, is tiny. 

In nearly all cases, this is a system that works very well indeed: the resources often come from overseas, but the healthcare infrastructure and drug regulation in Canada itself ensures patients and customers are being provided with safe drugs, correctly labeled, and adhering to the highest standards. This is something, however, that Justin Trudeau may have failed to appreciate.

Even before the pandemic, the relationship between Ottawa and the global pharmaceutical industry that keeps Canadians healthy and provides millions of high-skilled STEM jobs to its citizens was, to put it mildly, strained. The Liberal party at that time made health headlines for pressing ahead with new patented drug pricing regulations. These controversial new regulations prompted the heads of more than two dozen multinational pharmaceutical companies to write to the Prime Minister and request a meeting to discuss them. This is something that is standard practice in nearly all countries where these companies operate and is a courtesy that you would think would be extended by the head of a country that is so reliant on pharmaceutical imports. Trudeau ignored them – twice. 

Covid Strikes

But when Covid first hit Canada, Trudeau’s attitude changed. Suddenly, the Prime Minister was reaching out to long-since neglected Canadian pharmaceutical companies, hoping to secure a contract for the domestic development of a vaccine. 

As we now know, this was a project that ultimately went nowhere, and in no small part due to hesitancy on the part of Canadian companies to work with Trudeau. Hardly any progress was made, and the example of Australia (which has a much larger domestic industry) failing to pull off the same feat convinced many that it was hopeless. 

Fast forward half a year, and Canada now has plentiful supplies of the vaccine – imported from overseas.

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