Canada is drawing closer to making a decision on a leading COVID-19 vaccine candidate, Health Minister Patty Hajdu said Wednesday as the federal government continued to face pressure to deliver on doses amid mounting cases and deaths.
In a series of Twitter messages, Hajdu described the United Kingdom's decision to authorize the vaccine made by Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech as "encouraging."
"Health Canada's review of this candidate is ongoing, and is expected to be completed soon," she wrote.
"Making sure a COVID-19 vaccine is safe before approving it is Health Canada's priority, and when a vaccine is ready, Canada will be ready."
The Liberal government has been facing criticism on vaccines since Prime Minister Justin Trudeau admitted last week that other countries with domestic vaccine production are likely to inoculate their citizens first before shipping doses to Canada.
On Wednesday, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said it was "completely wrong" that Canada no longer has the capacity to manufacture vaccines—something he blamed on both the Liberals and the previous Conservative governments.
Singh called for the creation of a new Crown corporation to restore the capacity to produce vaccines and other critical medications.
"We should be able to do it at home," he said.
Trudeau also came under fire from the Conservatives, who questioned why Canada is seemingly behind the United Kingdom in the vaccine process.
"Right now, as we speak, Health Canada is looking at four different vaccine candidates—candidates that are leading around the world and that we have signed for tens of millions of doses for," Trudeau said in response to a question from Conservative MP Michelle Rempel Garner.
Health Canada's chief medical adviser said last week that several vaccine candidates are under review, and the first could be approved sometime this month.
Dr. Supriya Sharma said at a briefing on Nov. 26 that the agency expected to make a decision on approval at around the same time as regulators in the United States and Europe.
On Wednesday, Health Canada reiterated in a statement that it was working with international regulators, including those in the United Kingdom, but would make its own decision.
"A vaccine would only be authorized in Canada following the completion of an independent review process assessing its safety, efficacy and quality," Health Canada said.
The race towards a vaccine is taking place against a backdrop of rising infections and deaths in many parts of the country.
Quebec hit a new single-day high of 1,514 infections on Wednesday, as well as 43 new deaths linked to the novel coronavirus.
The province's deputy premier, Genevieve Guilbault, announced strict new limits for the number of shoppers inside shopping malls and big-box stores to come into effect later this week, with a maximum capacity to be determined based on each store's surface area.
Cases and deaths were also high in Ontario, which reported 1,723 new infections and 35 lives lost to the virus.
In Manitoba, which reported 277 new cases and 14 deaths, chief public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin said the health-care system remained under strain. Almost half of the 106 intensive care beds being used in the province are being used by people with COVID-19, he said.