The federal government could lose up to $1 billion in COVID-19 vaccines before the end of the year, while millions of doses still sit in government inventories, says Auditor General (VG) Karen Hogan.
In a report tabled in Parliament on Tuesday, the latter estimated that at the end of May there were 32.5 million doses in stock across the countries, the overwhelming majority of which (28 million) are expected to reach their expiration date soon.
What's more, only half of the 169 million COVID-19 vaccines since the start of the pandemic in Canada have found takers as of May 31, or about 84 million doses.
Ms. Hogan also notes just over 50 million “excess” doses as of May 31, the date on which the audit was limited. Of these, more than 15 million have already been donated and Canada wants to distribute 21 million more. However, these doses could expire before being distributed.
The AG acknowledges, however, that the government acted quickly by placing significant orders for COVID-19 vaccines from seven different companies in the context of a historic health crisis.
“By entering into these agreements, the government increased its chances of obtaining enough doses to provide the largest immunization program in the country's history, while recognizing that this approach could lead to a surplus of doses if all vaccines were ever approved,” said Karen Hogan.
Better sharing of data demanded
The AG points to the lack of communication between the various levels of power, in particular between the provinces, which are responsible for vaccination, and the federal government, which deals with supply.
“Problems with the exchange of health data” were noted by the AG’s office “in 1999, in 2002, in 2008 and more recently in 2021”.
“There is an urgent need to address these long-standing issues, including implementing a pan-Canadian information sharing framework, as the sharing of health data is at the heart of effective surveillance to ensure the safety of the Canadian population,” she said during a press briefing.
“I wonder how many other health emergencies we have to go through as a country before 'we can find a solution to [this problem]”, she added.
This is a problem that was also raised by the Federal Minister of Health, Jean-Yves Duclos. The latter even made it the essential condition for increasing health transfers by the provinces.
“Our health data system is not a world-class system, it is a world-class system. mediocre,” he complained. He mentioned that provincial systems were still using paper and fax.
It goes without saying that the minister welcomed the recommendation contained in the AG's report regarding data sharing.