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Questions remain over COVID-19 vaccine costs, roll-out in Ontario –



When a vaccine for the virus behind COVID-19 is approved in Canada, Ontario will be tasked with vaccinating more than a third of the country’s population — and some medical experts say “question marks” remain regarding the cost breakdown and roll-out plans.

The province’s ongoing planning work comes as two vaccine candidates pre-ordered by the federal government are now showing promise.

On Monday, Moderna announced its vaccine appears to be 94.5 per cent effective, according to preliminary data from the company’s ongoing study, while competitor Pfizer Inc. shared a similar update last week.

“We do have an entire team at the Ministry of Health that is working on the plan for distribution,” said Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott on Monday.

Transportation, cold storage options, and other logistics will be part of that process. Ethicists will also be at the table, Elliott said, to make sure an eventual vaccine is distributed “fairly and equitably.”

“We will be ready to go as soon as the vaccine is available,” she said.

But despite the optimism, others say key questions remain unanswered, partly due to the complex and unprecedented nature of planning the large-scale roll-out of a brand new vaccine — which will be in high demand, and potentially short-supply, at least initially. 

Extra costs after initial purchase

“I would like to hear a little bit more detailed explanation of what the priority groups are going to be,” said Matthew Miller, an associate professor at the Michael G. DeGroote Institute for Infectious Disease Research at McMaster University in Hamilton.

“I think we can understand that there’s still question marks about how much vaccine will be available over which time frame.”

WATCH | Moderna says its COVID-19 vaccine appears to be 94.5% effective:

Minister of Public Services and Procurement Anita Anand says the government is putting in place contracts to boost refrigeration capacity to store millions of vaccine doses. 9:11

Health care workers and vulnerable populations are likely candidates for the top of the list, Miller said, though that decision will also have to weigh local issues such as the level of health care services in different communities.

“Definitely the costs, I think, are a question mark right now,” he said. “Because in addition to the direct costs of each vaccine dose that’s required, of course, there’ll be costs associated with the way that these vaccines are actually administered.”

There’s a price tag for every step of the process, from purchasing to refrigeration to administration fees, noted Paul Grootendorst, an associate professor in the Leslie Dan Faculty of Pharmacy at the University of Toronto who has researched the economics of the pharmaceutical industry.

Grootendorst also speculated that the price per dose the government is paying — which hasn’t been made public — could fluctuate, depending on the final study findings.

“Let’s suppose that the efficacy turns out to be like 70 per cent … well, how does the price vary?” he questioned.

‘We do have an entire team at the Ministry of Health that is working on the plan for distribution,’ said Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott on Monday. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press)

Feds ‘cannot disclose’ agreement details

In a statement, a spokesperson for Public Services and Procurement Canada said it “cannot disclose details of specific agreements” in order to protect Canada’s negotiating position and commercially sensitive pricing information, as well as to respect confidentiality clauses in the vaccine agreements made to date.

While the federal government has so far allocated more than $1 billion to secure access to seven leading vaccine candidates, some experts estimate the end figure could be more than three times higher, assuming everyone needs two doses of a successful vaccine.

Canadians won’t be paying out of pocket to get vaccinated, but it’s not yet clear what portion of the costs Ontario or other provinces will be shouldering to vaccinate residents.

WATCH | Procurement minister says government is boosting refrigeration capacity for vaccines:

Minister of Public Services and Procurement Anita Anand says the government is putting in place contracts to boost refrigeration capacity to store 33.5 million vaccine doses. 1:16

“The real issue that’s happening in the background is how much of this will be covered by federal money versus how much of it will be covered by provincial money,” Miller said. 

“Almost certainly, both federal and provincial governments will pitch in a share. And I’m sure the major negotiations right now are just around what the percentage breakdown ends up being.”

CBC News asked both Public Services and Procurement Canada and Health Canada about the potential federal-provincial cost split but did not receive an answer by deadline.

A spokesperson for Ontario’s Ministry of Health also did not provide any specific details, but said the province is “working with the federal government and other provincial and territorial partners” to plan for the potential delivery of a vaccine.

Costs a ‘drop in the bucket’

Regardless of how the costs shake out, Grootendorst said it’s a small price to pay to bring the virus behind COVID-19 under control.

“If we’re talking about a billion dollars here, or a billion dollars there, that’s all rounding error when it comes to the overall cost of managing a pandemic,” Grootendorst said. 

WATCH | With promising vaccine news, residents urged to stay vigilant: 

Doug Manuel, epidemiologist at The Ottawa Hospital, says promising news about the effectiveness of Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine is welcome, but doesn’t mean residents should let their guard down. 1:13

“It really is a lower order of magnitude, compared to the cost to the economy and to society, mental health, etcetera of having people’s lives sidetracked by this circulating virus.”

Miller agreed, saying the costs are likely just “a drop in the bucket” compared to the economic and societal toll.

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Royal Bank of Canada warns of headwinds after better-than-expected profit – Financial Post



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“We expect mortgage growth to slow going forward as pent-up housing demand begins to cool,” Royal Bank Chief Executive Dave McKay said on the call.

Royal Bank joined rivals including Bank of Nova Scotia , Bank of Montreal and National Bank of Canada in reporting better-than-expected fourth-quarter profits as it set aside less money than analysts had estimated to cover future bad loans.

That came after three straight quarters of adding to provisions for credit losses, including on performing loans, that have built up record reserve levels.

But should the pessimistic scenario materialize, allowances on performing loans would have to increase by about 18 per cent, Royal Bank Chief Risk Officer Graeme Hepworth said.

Amid short-term headwinds like the second coronavirus pandemic wave, and the end of loan deferrals and government support, “we do see a world where delinquencies and … impairments will start to increase through 2021,” Hepworth said.

That would come as trading and underwriting activity, which helped the bank’s capital markets unit generate near-record earnings of $2.8 billion this year, moderates, executives said.

Royal Bank reported fourth-quarter adjusted net income of $2.27 per share, up 5 cents from a year earlier, and better than estimates of $2.05.

National Bank, the smallest of Canada’s six largest lenders, which also reported results on Wednesday, took provisions of $110 million, versus the nearly $160 million that was expected. That helped it post adjusted profit of $1.69 a share, compared with expectations of $1.52.

Royal Bank shares slipped 0.3 per cent to $107.72 in morning trading on the Toronto Stock Exchange, while National Bank’s stock dropped 1.1 per cent to $72.67. The TSE’s stock benchmark fell 0.1 per cent.

© Thomson Reuters 2020

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Conservatives push for parliamentary committee study into failed vaccine deal – CTV News



The federal Conservatives are calling for a parliamentary committee to probe the Liberal government’s plan to refit a National Research Council facility in Montreal to start producing a COVID-19 vaccine.

The government announced the $44-million project in May as part of a partnership between the NRC and a Chinese company to develop a made-in-Canada vaccine.

By August, the Liberals confirmed the partnership with CanSino Biologics had fallen apart, after the Chinese government had blocked shipments of vaccine samples meant to be used in clinical trials in Canada.

Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole has criticized the Liberals for putting too much faith in Beijing, and blamed the failed deal for Canada being late to order vaccines from other foreign companies.

The proposed committee probe would look at the investment intended to upgrade the NRC facility and how the deal impacted Canada’s efforts to ensure the country has timely access to vaccines.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau admitted last week that Canada might have to wait for other countries to get access to vaccines, though the government and vaccine-makers have since downplayed any delay.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 1, 2020.

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Conservatives press Trudeau government over COVID-19 vaccine after U.K. approval – News 1130



OTTAWA – The Trudeau government is facing increasing pressure to give a clear timeline for COVID-19 vaccine distribution, after news the U.K. approved on Wednesday the Pfizer candidate for emergency use.

The U.K. is the first western country to approve a COVID-19 vaccine, a move that has prompted the federal opposition to once again ask why Canada didn’t move faster.

A statement from Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole says our allies have plans to get vaccines to their people in days or weeks, and yet the prime minister has no timeline and no plan.

“The U.K. has approved Pfizer’s vaccine and are ready to begin vaccinating people next week, yet Canadians still have no idea when they’ll get vaccines,” he says. “Our allies around the world have plans to get vaccines to their people while Prime Minister Trudeau has no timeline, no plan for distribution, and no plan on who will get vaccines first. Canadians deserve certainty.”

His point is being echoed by Tory MPs, with Marilyn Gladu saying, “It’s too bad that the Liberals’ lack of planning has resulted in Canadians going to be delayed months.”

Conservative MP Michael Barrett claims Canada didn’t act fast enough to ensure we had access to immunizations when our allies do.

“They’re going to start vaccinating their population. We’re seeing that by the end of the first quarter, the promise from the Liberals is that we’ll have six-million doses, which is about three-million vaccinations,” he says.

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