WINNIPEG, Manitoba (Reuters) – Manitoba said on Thursday it will buy 2 million doses of a COVID-19 vaccine candidate now in early trials, becoming the first Canadian province to bypass the national government.
The provincial government bought the doses from Alberta-based Providence Therapeutics, Premier Brian Pallister said. The company is developing a candidate similar to those produced by Pfizer Inc and Moderna Inc.
Alberta’s premier also said his government is pursuing vaccine supplies because of federal delays procuring doses internationally.
If approved by the regulator, Health Canada, Providence would supply Manitoba with its first 200,000 doses late this year at the earliest. Pallister did not release financial terms.
Asked if the federal government had concerns about provinces buying their own supplies, Procurement Minister Anita Anand said Ottawa has never prevented them from doing so.
In total, Manitoba will buy 2 million doses for the province of 1.4 million people. Emergent BioSolutions would fill vials at its Winnipeg plant, but the doses will be manufactured by another company, Emergent spokeswoman Assal Hellmer said.
Pallister, a Progressive Conservative, has criticized Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, saying he has not delivered vaccines fast enough.
Canada’s rate of vaccination lags behind rates per capita in the United States, the United Kingdom and other countries, but the number of new infections is dropping amid widespread restrictions.
“Canada first is in danger of becoming Canada last,” Pallister said. “I just want a Canadian home-field advantage for us.”
Alberta Premier Jason Kenney said he has contacted other premiers to establish an inter-provincial task force on vaccine supply.
Kenney said Providence told him it would need a C$150 million order representing 50 million doses to establish a Canadian production facility.
Ottawa has signed all other vaccine procurement deals so far but they are all made outside Canada and only Pfizer and Moderna have regulatory approval. The provinces are in charge of administering vaccines.
Last week, Canada signed its first deal to allow a foreign coronavirus vaccine, developed by Novavax Inc, to be manufactured domestically.
(This story corrects paragraph six to say “doses will be manufactured by another company” instead of “Emergent BioSolutions would manufacture the doses”)
(Reporting by Rod Nickel; Additional reporting by Steve Scherer in Ottawa and Nia Williams in Calgary; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama, Grant McCool and David Gregorio)