This has been another week in the health committee during the pandemic, and there have been big changes. In the last week, a few concerning things have happened. First of all, we have had more reports of the British variant in Canada, and I will remind colleagues that this variant was detected in a very tragic and severe outbreak in a Barrie area long-term care facility. Through that tragedy, I think we all saw what this variant could do in Canada.
The South African variant has also been detected in Canada. I think a lot of Canadians are bearing with these long dark days that are cold, but they're also bearing with, in most parts of the country, a second significant lockdown. With provinces looking at potentially lifting some of these restrictions, I think it's incumbent upon our committee to get a briefing on some very pertinent technical information.
In the last week, countries around the world have started to report their concern with this, particularly regarding the ability of domestic vaccination programs to outpace the spread of the variant. Without getting overly partisan here, I think everybody would agree that Canada is behind the rest of the world right now in terms of vaccinating our population.
CNN is reporting on Canada's vaccination status. We have less than 3% of our population vaccinated, while the Americans are at over 10% now, on track to have over 150 million people vaccinated within the first 100 days of President Biden's administration. The U.K. is at 20%.
I think we really need to know a few things. We need to know what the federal government is doing to detect and monitor variants and how they're communicating with the provincial governments on this.
With regard to the efficacy of our vaccine portfolio, in terms of when these vaccines are scheduled to be approved, or the assumptions, we know that the regulator does that. Politicians don't do that, but we need to know what assumptions the government is making with regard to approval of different vaccine candidates in the context of their efficacy, including against some of these variants, particularly given that epidemiologists around the world are concerned that these variants could become dominant strains. I know that the Americans are particularly concerned that the British variant could become the dominant strain by the middle of March, which is why they're accelerating their vaccination plan.
I'm looking at reports. There are concerns. I know there are different schools of thought. I've seen different reports in the last week about whether or not the AstraZeneca vaccine is effective against the South African variant. It's incumbent upon the health committee, to put it mildly, to understand what the federal government is doing. There hasn't been a lot of information from our government put forward yet with regard to these issues, and I would hope that we could all ask the federal government if it has put sufficient resources in place to monitor these issues and what the curve is, or what it's anticipating in terms of our capacity to vaccinate the population versus its modelling for the spread of the variant.
That was the genesis of using Standing Order 106(4). I know that with Family Day on Monday, we weren't scheduled to meet until Friday next week, but every day counts right now, and our committee is in the belly of the beast.
For the record, Chair, just so that it is moved according to all procedure here, I move:
That the committee invite the following representatives from the Public Health Agency of Canada to give a joint presentation of no more than 15 minutes:
Roman Szumski, Senior Vice President of the Vaccine Acquisition Branch
Gina Charos and/or Stephen Bent, Director General level official for the Centre for Immunization and Respiratory Infectious Diseases
Bersabel Ephrem, Director General of the Centre for Communicable Diseases and Infection Control,
Cindy Evans, Acting Vice President of the Emergency Management Branch
Kim Elmslie, Vice President of the Immunization Branch
That Dr. Caroline Quach-Thanh, Chair of the National Advisory Committee on Immunization be invited to give a presentation of no more than 7 minutes;
That the above witnesses be asked to present on the following:
a. current outbreaks, occurrences, and modelling for COVID-19 variant spread in Canada as it relates to projected vaccination rollout timelines;
b. capacity to surveil the emergence, prevalence, and spread of variants;
c. current federal government assumptions regarding vaccine effectiveness on variants in the context of the federal government’s vaccine portfolio;
d. Canada’s procurement of variant related booster shots;
That the witnesses remain available for question rounds after their presentations, that the meeting be no less than two hours duration, and that it be held no later than February 19, 2021.
I have a few things to say to, hopefully, pre-emptively answer questions colleagues might have.
We've asked for specific director general-level persons within the Public Health Agency of Canada, because I'd like to get more technical-level information than what is typically provided at high-level media briefings. This is why we'd like to have representatives who we know are actually doing the technical modelling and the technical work right now on the ground.
Chair, with regard to putting the time limits on the presentations of 15 minutes and seven minutes, we've asked for a lot of witnesses, and we don't want to eat up the whole two-hour meeting with presentations. We would hope that the people who are requested to come to committee will be able to provide written briefs to the committee in both official languages prior to the committee meeting as well.
Really, what I'm trying to get at here is information. Beyond the high-level messaging that reporters and parliamentarians are getting on a daily basis, I really want to know what the federal government is doing with regard to this. I've also heard from provincial colleagues across the country that they would like to hear this as well.
I really think that this is where we need to be managing to as a committee. I think the context of the rest of our COVID-19 study also needs to be urgently framed out into this information, given the level of urgency that has been expressed by media and by epidemiologists around the world and the fact that, frankly, putting it mildly, we are behind in vaccinating Canadians. Given that provinces are looking at lifting provincial restrictions in the coming weeks, and given that we are behind in vaccinating Canadians right now, I would like to know how that fits with the spread of variants.
I also think that we have to start giving Canadians some hope that Parliament is finding a way out of this. I know it's a shifting situation, but people who are at home and who are being asked to sacrifice a lot, be it their jobs or their mental health, and in many situations, front-line health care workers.... We need this information.
I think this is fairly non-partisan. I think this is in the best interests of Canadians, and I think this is what our health committee should be doing: being nimble and watching where the pandemic is going and coming up with smart motions that provide information to Canadians so that we can provide a path forward. We're a year into this now. We should have systems in place to deal with these issues. If we don't, it's incumbent upon Parliament to ensure that we do, and that's the job of each of us here.
Thank you, Chair. I hope that all of my colleagues of all political stripes will support this motion today, that we can quickly pass it and that we can move on with business.