Evidence of meeting #29 for Health in the 43rd Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was vaccines.

A video is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Dany Fortin  Vice-President, Vaccine Roll-Out Task Force, Logistics and Operations, Public Health Agency of Canada
Matthew Tunis  Executive Secretary, National Advisory Committee on Immunization, Public Health Agency of Canada
Stephen Lucas  Deputy Minister, Department of Health
Bill Matthews  Deputy Minister, Department of Public Works and Government Services
Theresa Tam  Chief Public Health Officer, Public Health Agency of Canada
Iain Stewart  President, Public Health Agency of Canada

1:05 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Ron McKinnon

I call this meeting to order.

Welcome, everyone, to meeting number 29 of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Health. The committee is meeting today to study the emergency situation facing Canadians in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.

I would like to welcome the Honourable Patty Hajdu, Minister of Health, and the Honourable Anita Anand, Minister of Public Services and Procurement.

I'd also like to welcome senior officials joining us today. From the Department of Health, we have Dr. Stephen Lucas, deputy minister. From the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, we have Dr. Michael Strong, president. From the Department of Public Works and Government Services, we have Mr. Bill Matthews, deputy minister; and Mr. Michael Vandergrift, associate deputy minister. From the Public Health Agency of Canada, we have Mr. Iain Stewart, president; Major-General Dany Fortin, vice-president, vaccine rollout task force, logistics and operations; Dr. Theresa Tam, chief public health officer; and Dr. Matthew Tunis, executive secretary for the National Advisory Committee on Immunization.

We will start with witness statements. I will invite Minister Hajdu to begin. Minister Hajdu, please go ahead, for seven minutes.

1:05 p.m.

Thunder Bay—Superior North Ontario

Liberal

Patty Hajdu LiberalMinister of Health

Thank you very much, Mr. Chair. I'll just give my remarks in English to go easy on the interpreters, given this virtual environment. I will say that I'm very happy to be here with you all, and I thank the committee for the opportunity to share an update on our work to protect Canadians against COVID-19.

Of course, many people have used the word “unprecedented” to describe this pandemic. In fact, around the world, we've talked about the unprecedented nature of a global pandemic of this sort. Besides being unprecedented in its scope, it is obviously also unpredictable, as the virus has changed and shifted and as we've attempted to keep ahead of our knowledge on how best to protect people from COVID-19.

As we see case numbers rising across the country, Canada and indeed the world have worked hard to manage COVID-19 and to protect our citizens in each of our jurisdictions. Every step of the way, since January 2020, our government has responded and adapted to information as it has evolved. Information is coming to us in real time. On many fronts, we learn as we go, and I want to take a moment to thank the scientists, the researchers and the public health officials who have worked non-stop to better understand this virus, to better understand measures to protect against this virus, and to better understand how it's affecting the many communities in our country.

Mr. Chair, it's important to establish that context as we address the important questions before us today. All levels of government are racing to ramp up vaccination, to suppress the rapid spread of variants of concern and indeed of the virus itself, and to help bring the pandemic under control. As of April 16, more than 12 million vaccines have been distributed to the provinces and territories, and we delivered over 10 million doses by Easter weekend, which exceeded our initial goal of six million doses for the first quarter of this year.

As of now, more than nine million doses of COVID-19 vaccines have been administered in Canada; 81% of people 80 years of age and over have received their first dose, and 10% have received both doses. The Government of Canada is going to continue to do its job to make sure more and more doses are delivered throughout the country, and will also be there for provinces and territories for any additional support or resources they might need.

We're also going to continue to provide advice to Canadians about vaccination and about how to protect themselves against COVID-19 as we see the virus accelerate in many jurisdictions across the country. We work with real-time data, and Health Canada carefully reviews any new information that becomes available so that our advice continues to evolve and be based on the best and latest science.

As the vaccine rollout continues, we continue to work with partners in industry and the not-for-profit sector to increase testing and screening capacity across the country. Testing and screening continue to be the foundation of slowing the spread of COVID-19, although of course it's very important that provinces and territories also manage people well and in a supportive way who have tested positive for COVID-19. Mr. Chair, it's important to know if people are sick, and it's important to support them when they are. That's the best way to stop the spread of COVID-19.

On testing, as of April 8, 2021, more than 25 million rapid tests had been shipped to provinces and territories. That's 25 million, Mr. Chair. When combined with the federal allocation, over 41 million rapid tests have been distributed across the country. Not only have we delivered those tests, but we've also been working with provinces—

1:10 p.m.

Bloc

Luc Thériault Bloc Montcalm, QC

Sorry, Mr. Chair.

I also want to apologize to the minister.

I'm really sorry, but I'm having a sound issue. Even though I turned on the French channel, I can hear the minister's remarks as loud as the interpretation. I can't understand what's being said.

I don't know what procedure to follow in this situation, but I've had a similar issue before. I resolved it by leaving the meeting and coming back. I'd like to try this method. I hope that I won't miss too much of the minister's speech. You may want to wait for me.

What's your decision, Mr. Chair?

1:10 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Ron McKinnon

Thank you, Mr. Thériault.

We'll wait for you.

We will suspend briefly while Mr. Thériault fixes his problem.

1:10 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Ron McKinnon

Minister Hajdu, thank you for your patience. Please continue from where you left off, if you can.

April 16th, 2021 / 1:10 p.m.

Liberal

Patty Hajdu Liberal Thunder Bay—Superior North, ON

I'll begin at the testing section and talk about testing.

As the vaccine rollout continues, it's important that we continue to test and contact trace, support people who have been infected with COVID-19, and isolate in order to contain the spread of the virus as we do that important work. The government has been working with partners in industry and in the not-for-profit sector to increase screening and testing capacity across the country.

As of April 8, 2021, more than 25 million rapid tests had been shipped to the provinces and territories. When combined with the federal allocation, over 41 million rapid tests have been distributed across the country. We've supported the provinces and territories, along with the private sector, to ensure that rapid testing can help identify the spread of COVID-19 in essential workplaces and in congregate living settings. In fact, in pandemic spending, eight dollars out of every $10 spent on our national response have come from the federal government.

Recently, the Province of Alberta announced that more than two million rapid tests will be available for businesses in Alberta, and this is an expansion of a program that has already successfully rolled out more than 1.2 million rapid tests to long-term care facilities, schools, hospitals and homeless shelters. In this next phase of Alberta's program, test kits will be provided to employers and service providers, with priority given to organizations that work with vulnerable people. This will give employees a sense of security and comfort when they go home to their families at night after working with the public all day.

There's no silver bullet to fighting COVID-19, but adequate rapid testing and appropriate contact tracing and isolation are layers of protection to keep essential workers safe as they stay on the front lines for all of us. From border measures to mandatory quarantines to digital tools to the establishment and funding of safe isolation sites, the Government of Canada has been working with the provinces and territories every day to keep Canadians safe. We're going to continue to use all the tools at our disposal to help the country through the pandemic. We will do whatever it takes, for as long as it takes, to protect Canadians.

I would like to conclude with a few words about the report recently published by the Office of the Auditor General of Canada.

As you know, it raises issues concerning the Public Health Agency of Canada's response to the emergence of COVID-19. We have accepted every recommendation from this audit, and work is under way to respond to these recommendations. We have to keep the health and safety of Canadians our top priority across government.

That's why the Government of Canada has provided significant funding and resources. As I said, eight dollars out of every $10 in the pandemic response has come from the federal government. This includes, recently, $690.7 million in the fall 2020 economic statement to strengthen the Public Health Agency of Canada's response and surge capacity.

The agency has grown tremendously. It has expanded by more than 1,000 new employees to bolster our capacity to have more people able to support and protect Canadians across a number of areas. The agency continues to grow to support our response to COVID-19. In October, the agency implemented a national COVID-19 public health data portal to support data collection, sharing and management, something we know that we need to get better at all across the country. Also, I've asked for an independent review of Canada's global public health surveillance system, commonly referred to as GPHIN, and a final report and recommendations are expected later this spring. These measures will help us improve Canada's pandemic preparedness and response capacity.

There have been financial supports for Canadians through the CERB and the CRB, wage supports for businesses through the CEWS, and wage top-ups for health care workers. Through my portfolio, there have also been things like safe isolation sites for communities; Canadian Red Cross personnel, field epidemiologists and other experts; contact tracers; and mental health supports that are free and directly deliverable to Canadians through Wellness Together Canada. This is along with $19 billion through the safe restart agreement; supplies and resources, fully paid, for the provinces and territories to test, track and treat COVID cases; treatments for COVID-19; and millions upon millions of vaccines. Every step of the way we have stopped at nothing to support the provinces and territories to deliver on their responsibility to provide health care to Canadians in their jurisdictions.

As we see this third wave threaten so many lives, we know we have to keep working together, with all hands on deck. This is a team Canada moment. We have to keep working together and working with our partners, because Canadians want us to do that. They need us to do that. They need us to continue to be collaborative and to look for ways to help. They want us to know that they need us to work together and that we are going to get through this together.

To my colleagues here today, I hope that you will use your platforms, your ability to communicate as leaders in your communities, to encourage Canadians to get tested, to stay home when they're sick, to wear face masks, to isolate when they're close contacts, to restrict their movements and indeed to get vaccinated when it's their turn. It's very important that we are all speaking from the same page on this.

Thank you very much. I look forward to your questions.

1:20 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Ron McKinnon

Thank you, Minister.

We'll go now to Minister Anand.

Minister Anand, I invite you to make your statement. Go ahead, please, for seven minutes.

1:20 p.m.

Oakville Ontario

Liberal

Anita Anand LiberalMinister of Public Services and Procurement

Thank you so much, Mr. Chair.

I want to thank the committee for inviting me to speak here today—

1:20 p.m.

Bloc

Luc Thériault Bloc Montcalm, QC

Sorry, Mr. Chair.

I can't hear the interpreter properly. There seems to be a volume issue on the interpretation channel. When a new interpreter takes over, the volume isn't at the same level. This isn't the first time this has happened. I think that we should pay attention to this issue.

The issue is that if I turn up the volume on my computer like I usually do, when the other interpreter takes over, it will be much too loud. I've been participating in video conference meetings for a year and a half now and my hearing is starting to go. I would like this comment to be taken into consideration. Not only is the hearing of the interpreters at risk, but also my own.

Thank you.

1:20 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Ron McKinnon

Thank you, Mr. Thériault.

I will ask the clerk to bring that forward with the interpretation people and see if we can address that. I myself notice that when the language switches to English, there's a lag before the volume is restored.

However, let's forge ahead.

Please keep us informed, Mr. Thériault. We'll do the best we can.

1:20 p.m.

Bloc

Luc Thériault Bloc Montcalm, QC

The issue still isn't resolved, Mr. Chair.

I don't want to raise my volume to a level that would harm my eardrum. I'm sorry, but the issue isn't resolved. I think that the issue is in the interpreters' booth.

The clerk must give instructions regarding this matter now. I'll be spending three hours with you, and I don't want to go through this for three hours. I'd like to get this issue resolved.

I'm sorry. I know that this is unpleasant, but I've been dealing with this reality for the past year and a half.

Thank you.

1:20 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Ron McKinnon

Thank you, Mr. Thériault.

I see that the clerk has gone to talk to the people in the interpretation booth.

We will briefly suspend. Thank you.

1:25 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Ron McKinnon

Thank you, Mr. Clerk.

Mr. Thériault, thank you for your patience. We'll do our best.

1:25 p.m.

Liberal

Patty Hajdu Liberal Thunder Bay—Superior North, ON

Mr. Chair, I've arranged my schedule so that I can stay until 3:15 p.m. as well.

1:25 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Ron McKinnon

Thank you, Minister. I appreciate that.

With that, we will resume.

Thank you for your patience, everyone. Translation is sometimes difficult.

I would invite Minister Anand to resume.

1:25 p.m.

Liberal

Anita Anand Liberal Oakville, ON

Thanks so much. I was just actually thanking everybody for having me here. I look forward to taking your questions.

I also wanted to thank the translators, who I know have been working so very hard during this whole pandemic and in various committee meetings.

I would like to also acknowledge that I'm meeting you from the territory of many first nations, including the Mississaugas of the Credit, the Anishinabe, the Chippewa, the Haudenosaunee and the Wendat peoples.

I understand the sense of urgency with which this meeting has been convened. The government has been dealing with this crisis for over a year now. Canada is in the third wave of the virus, and my department, Public Services and Procurement Canada, has been working around the clock since the beginning—

1:25 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Ron McKinnon

I'm sorry, Minister. Pardon me.

In English, we're now getting the translation and the original voice at the same level. I wonder if we could have the translators take a quick look at that.

Please, carry on, Minister.

1:30 p.m.

Liberal

Anita Anand Liberal Oakville, ON

Public Services and Procurement Canada is working 24 hours a day, seven days a week, to secure the goods and services needed to help Canada get through the pandemic.

Our primary goal at PSPC has been to meet the needs established by the Public Health Agency of Canada and Health Canada as they worked—and continue to work—with the provinces and territories to support Canada's health care professionals on the front lines.

Early on, we focused on buying urgently needed PPE in what proved to be a hyper-competitive global market, with huge international demand for a finite supply of goods. My team accelerated procurement processes, and in some instances established completely new international supply chains to ensure that Canada had access to the most vital PPE from overseas as well as right here in Canada.

Indeed, we tapped into the ingenuity of Canadian companies. We put in place contracts with those who answered our call to action and stepped up to deliver what they could.

At the same time, our government made significant investments in domestic production of much-needed personal protective equipment, or PPE, helping several Canadian companies retool and expand their production lines.

To date, my department has now procured some 2.5 billion pieces of equipment, which we are continuing to receive, with a substantial amount of that equipment being made right here, at home.

We have also procured other vital supplies and services on behalf of the Public Health Agency of Canada, such as rapid tests and medical equipment.

As the members of this committee well know, our focus now is on vaccines—getting them into Canada and into the arms of eligible Canadians as soon as possible. We are also supporting the Public Health Agency of Canada and all provinces and territories with the supplies necessary, including the low-dead-volume syringes.

Moving to vaccines, Mr. Chair, our work from the outset has been to follow the advice, in our procurements, of the Public Health Agency of Canada and the COVID-19 vaccine task force. On their advice, we began by building a diversified portfolio of vaccine candidates as soon as they began to show promise. As soon as we received the advice of the vaccine task force, we began signing agreements in principle with potential suppliers. That was as early as July 2020.

Our objective was to place Canada in a solid position to take delivery of doses as soon as vaccines were deemed safe and effective—and that is precisely what we have done. We gained access to more than 400 million doses of potential vaccines from eight different manufacturers, resulting in one of the most diverse portfolios in the world.

This diverse portfolio is giving Canadians some security in what continues to be a volatile marketplace for vaccines, and it is thanks to this diverse portfolio that we are seeing inoculations happening across this country. We have four approved vaccines. We have received more than 12 million doses in this country since December. Millions more are arriving on our shores every week. We are working directly with our suppliers to keep them coming.

At the same time, we continue to negotiate for earlier deliveries from vaccine suppliers. Indeed, the Prime Minister and I just announced that we have secured the delivery of an additional eight million Pfizer vaccine doses. The first four million additional doses are scheduled to arrive in May. Two million doses a week are coming to Canada in May. That is double the amount of Pfizer doses that we had previously expected.

Indeed, in June we will also see more than two million doses arriving per week. Then, in July, there will be two million more doses, so Mr. Chair, Pfizer has really stepped up in order to ensure that we get vaccines into Canadians' arms as soon as possible.

All of this means that from April until the end of June, we are set to receive at least 24.2 million doses of Pfizer and, by the end of September, Canada will have received 48 million Pfizer doses. This is in addition to the other shipments of vaccines that are coming in from Moderna, AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson.

This is tremendous news for Canadians. It means more Pfizer vaccine doses sooner, on top of the millions of other vaccines we already have coming.

I can also now provide an update on our anticipated deliveries of Johnson & Johnson's vaccine.

We expect an initial shipment of approximately 300,000 doses during the week of April 27, with more substantial deliveries coming in the latter part of this quarter and into the third quarter.

For AstraZeneca, Canada is scheduled to receive 4.1 million doses from various sources by the end of June, with further deliveries in the third quarter.

In total, prior to the end of June, Canada will receive between 48 million and 50 million doses of vaccines.

Mr. Chair, as we have said many times, by the end of September, we will have more than enough doses so that every eligible person in Canada will be able to be fully vaccinated.

Once again, this is good news for Canadians, but it doesn't mean our work is done. Our government continues to work with suppliers and our international partners to ensure the steady flow of vaccines into this country, and we are continuing to push for earlier delivery of vaccines from our suppliers.

Mr. Chair, this is the most important work that I have ever undertaken in my professional career. Like many of you around the table and Canadians across this country, I am worried about the third wave, and I am working—

1:35 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Ron McKinnon

Pardon me, Minister.

I don't know if it's your microphone or whether it's generally heard the same, but the last minute of your remarks was very choppy, very static.

Was the committee able to hear those final remarks?

Ms. Rempel Garner.

1:35 p.m.

Conservative

Michelle Rempel Conservative Calgary Nose Hill, AB

Mr. Chair, I move that the committee now proceed to questioning rounds.

1:35 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Ron McKinnon

We have an agenda, and we have invited the other witnesses to give statements as well. We will continue on with those.

1:35 p.m.

Conservative

Michelle Rempel Conservative Calgary Nose Hill, AB

Point of order, Chair.

There is a motion on the floor that needs to be dispensed with.

1:35 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Ron McKinnon

There is not a motion on the floor. You cannot move a motion on a point of order.

1:35 p.m.

Conservative

Michelle Rempel Conservative Calgary Nose Hill, AB

I didn't move a point of order. You acknowledged me without my saying point of order.

1:35 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Ron McKinnon

In any case, we will carry on with the agenda as—