Question Period: Biologics Manufacturing Centre

By: The Hon. Terry Mercer

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Hon. Terry M. Mercer: Senator Gold, Canadians realized in early 2020 that due to decisions taken by previous governments, we no longer had the domestic manufacturing capabilities to produce vaccines. This month, the government completed construction of the Biologics Manufacturing Centre in Montreal, a brand new facility owned and operated by the National Research Council of Canada. Imagine that — in less than one year; sometimes you can get things done quickly.

Once fully operational, this facility could produce up to 2 million doses per month. The centre has an agreement with Novavax to produce their vaccine at the facility once they receive approval from Health Canada, hopefully before the end of 2021.

Senator Gold, since Canadians are getting vaccinated at encouraging rates with other vaccines, does the government intend to use the Novavax vaccines to help with their international commitments, such as through the COVAX program?

Hon. Marc Gold (Government Representative in the Senate): Thank you for the question and for underlining the progress that the country is making in rebuilding our domestic capacity. We look forward to that facility receiving the equipment that has yet to arrive to begin work on the Novavax vaccine.

I’m also glad that you underlined Canada’s commitment to assist with the distribution of vaccines throughout the world to those countries less well positioned than we are.

However, I do not know at this juncture whether that particular facility will be used for COVID vaccines in that endeavour; indeed, it’s not clear yet when those vaccines will come on stream in Canada. As soon as that information becomes clearer and available, I’ll certainly report it to the chamber.

Senator Mercer: Senator Gold, you partially answered my supplementary question. Do I understand from your answer that the facility may not manufacture COVID-related vaccines? If that’s the case, will they be producing other vaccines that can be used both in Canada and around the world?

Senator Gold: Thank you for your question. My understanding is that the first order of business will be to start manufacturing vaccines for COVID-19. Exactly how much and how quickly they will come online is not yet known. But the larger point is that this facility, and the other facilities we hope will be developed, will give us the capacity domestically to produce the vaccines that we will need regardless of the profile of the viruses that may come our way.

As I said, it is a major step in the direction of regaining domestic manufacturing capacity, which can be adapted to the different diseases and the different vaccines that may be needed.

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