Here’s why some coronavirus vaccine suppliers say they aren’t selling to provinces

Some of the biggest coronavirus vaccine manufacturers say they are not selling shots to provincial governments because they only want to deal with one contract per country at a time.

This comes as premiers in Alberta and Manitoba join arms in calling for a “Plan B” interprovincial task force to secure their own vaccine supplies following delays in deliveries to the federal government, and a lack of clarity from the federal government around the terms of those crucial contracts.

“During the pandemic, we are committed to bringing this vaccine to help meet the public health need and only plan to sell the vaccine to the Government of Canada,” said Christina Antoniou, director of corporate affairs for Pfizer.

“The federal government’s National Operations Centre is responsible for distributing the vaccine to each of the provinces, and we are working closely with them to support their efforts.”

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“In order the (sic) optimally address the pandemic situation worldwide, Pfizer decided to have one agreement per country,” Antoniou added.

“The idea was to limit the number of contractual agreements during the pandemic phase. As such, we have one contract for Canada. That will be the case until we have delivered on the full contract.”

Read more: Ottawa still blocking provinces from ordering vaccines from Pfizer, Moderna, Pallister says

Global News reached out to Pfizer, Moderna, AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson following comments by Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister during an interview with Global News last week.

Pallister said the federal government’s contracts with those major vaccine suppliers forbid those companies from selling vaccines to the provinces in separate deals.

“They’ve all told us that they are not going to sell to us because that’s part of the deal they made with the federal government,” he said. “To me, that’s blocking.”

Read more: Feds ‘not in a position to block’ provinces from buying COVID-19 vaccines, LeBlanc says

Manitoba government officials provided Global News with records of their outreach to the four vaccine suppliers, which show the companies rebuffing requests from provincial officials to negotiate contracts.

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None of the responses from the vaccine companies in those emails stated that they were prohibited from entering into separate contracts with the provinces because of their federal contract.

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One official from the Manitoba government’s procurement team appeared to paraphrase a response received from Janssen, the subsidiary of Johnson & Johnson that is developing the coronavirus vaccine.

“Talked with Janssen, direction from them is they are only working with one entity per country – PHAC,” said the official, whose name was redacted in the records provided to Global News. “They will not (sic) entertain working with us for additional vaccines once we receive volumes from Feds.  They only want to engage with PHAC.”

An email that appeared to come from Moderna said the company wasn’t interested in separate deals.

“Moderna’s position on this remains the same as shared on our call last Friday,” said an official in the email, whose name was redacted in the records provided to Global News. “We are currently fully committed to the government of Canada to bring as many doses possible to Canada in 2021.”

Another email that appeared to come from an official at AstraZeneca Canada’s Mississauga location offered a similar response, noting their vaccine candidate remains under review by Health Canada.

“Our commitment is to fulfill the supply requested by the Federal Government post Health Canada regulatory approval,” said the official, whose name was redacted in the records.

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“Unfortunately at this time we are still unable to respond to your specific provincial request.”

The response that appeared to come from Pfizer was brief: “The situation has not changed and contracts with individual provinces are not currently possible.”

Pfizer was the only company to respond to Global News’ questions by deadline.

Any responses received by Moderna, AstraZeneca or Johnson & Johnson will be included once received.

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Global News asked Pallister’s office whether the provincial government had received any responses from the vaccine companies that specifically said the federal contracts prohibited them from selling to the provinces, as Pallister had indicated in his interview.

Olivia Billson, spokesperson for the premier, said the province is being blocked from buying vaccines from those companies if the companies are not taking orders until they fulfill the federal contracts.

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“Manitoba has reached out repeatedly to COVID-19 vaccine suppliers since late last year on our own initiative to secure a direct supply of vaccines for Manitobans,” she said in an email.

“Vaccine suppliers have clearly indicated to our government that they are unable to take any orders from us at this time until they fulfill federal orders. That is fact, effectively blocking us from securing vaccines on our own accord.”

The federal government has not released the details of any of its contracts with the major vaccine suppliers, despite repeated urging from premiers and opposition parties to be more transparent.

Procurement Minister Anita Anand said the government is bound by confidentiality clauses in those contracts, and has been trying to get vaccine companies to loosen those terms.

So far, she said, those efforts have been unsuccessful.

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