The federal government learned that China had blocked a COVID-19 vaccine shipment meant for clinical trials in Canada, after a collaboration plan between the two countries was just announced, new documents reveal.
On May 12, 2020, the National Research Council of Canada (NRC) announced plans to work with CanSino Biologics Inc., a Chinese company with connections with the Chinese military, to produce the Ad5-nCOV vaccine against COVID-19. CanSino would have been the first company to undertake clinical trials for a COVID-19 candidate vaccine in Canada.
On May 19, 2020, the federal government learned that the shipments of the vaccine candidate were blocked by China’s General Administration of Customs, according to documents tabled in the House of Commons on Jan. 25, reported iPolitics.
But the Liberal government waited three months before making public that the partnership with CanSino was over, according to the latest NRC document tabled.
“Under this agreement, CanSino was to provide candidate vaccine doses and transfer their vaccine technology, free of charge, for Phase 1 and 2 clinical trials in Canada, and grant the NRC a non-exclusive right to use, produce, and reproduce the vaccine for emergency pandemic use,” the NRC said in response to a question from Conservative MP Michelle Rempel Garner.
Garner questioned the federal government’s ability to secure COVID-19 vaccines for Canadians during a Health Committee meeting on Monday.
“We are facing a monumental challenge in this country, and we do need to have answers on why we have a vaccine shortage, and more importantly, what the government is going to do to fix it, because that is only hope we can offer Canadians,” Garner said.
While the Chinese State Council refused to approve shipment to Canada, China allowed the vaccine candidate to be shipped to other countries for clinical trials under agreements similar to the one with NRC.
New clinical trial data emerged as China continued to block shipment of the CanSino vaccines. On Aug. 5, 2020, Canada’s Procurement Minister Anita Anand announced that the Vaccine Task Force had entered into agreements with Pfizer and Moderna.
“Due to lengthy delays in the shipment of the vaccine doses to Canada, the fact that CanSino’s candidate had already entered advanced testing in other countries, and the new clinical trial data that had emerged from other jurisdictions, it was decided in late August that the opportunity to conduct clinical trials in Canada for Ad5-nCoV had passed and the government decided to focus on more promising candidates,” the NRC said on Monday.
Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole had criticized the federal government’s decision to prioritize partnering with CanSino Biologics, which has been considered a national security threat.
“CSIS [Canadian Security Intelligence Service] had been flagging CanSino as a national security threat for years, but the Liberals turned a blind eye to our Canadian experts,” O’Toole wrote in a December 2020 commentary in the National Post. “After undoubtedly extracting useful Canadian vaccine research, China broke off relations and refused to ship samples.”
Canada’s former Foreign Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne said the delay of the CanSino vaccine was not “necessarily” linked to the rift between Canada and China. The two countries’ relationship went downhill after the arrest of Meng Wanzhou, the CFO of Chinese telecom company Huawei, in December 2018. Meng was arrested based on a U.S. extradition warrant on charges of bank fraud; she was soon released and has been under house arrest in Vancouver since.
Soon after Meng’s arrest, Beijing detained two Canadians—Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig—who are still being held in Chinese prisons.