Opening statement: Standing Committee on Health—January 18, 2022

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Mr. Paul Thompson, Deputy Minister, Public Services and Procurement Canada (PSPC)
Standing Committee on Health
To discuss recent COVID-19 developments
January 18, 2022

Mr. Chair, I want to thank this committee for inviting me here today, and I fully appreciate the urgency of this meeting.

Having joined the department a week ago today, let me start by saying I am proud to be leading a talented group of public servants who have been crucial to fighting COVID-19.

Since the very beginning, Public Services and Procurement Canada has worked tirelessly to obtain the equipment and supplies required to protect the health and safety of Canadians.

Our goal is to meet the needs established by the Public Health Agency of Canada, as they work with the provinces and territories to support Canadians and our healthcare professionals on the frontlines.

Early on, my department focused on buying urgently needed personal protective equipment (PPE) in what proved to be a hyper-competitive global market, with huge international demand for a finite supply of goods—much of which was being made overseas.

More and more, as domestic capacity for producing PPE was being stood up, we also tapped into several Canadian manufacturers.

To date, PSPC has now procured some 2.7 billion pieces of equipment, with a substantial amount of that being made right here at home.

For example, we have a 10-year contract with Medicom out of Montreal to supply N95s and surgical masks. And we have a contract with 3M based in Brockville for 25 million N95s annually, through to 2026.

Both domestic manufacturers are now providing Canada with a steady supply of masks.

Mr. Chair, when it comes to vaccines, PSPC’s approach has been deliberate and comprehensive.

The department led negotiations for the establishment of a robust vaccine portfolio—that has put Canada in a fortunate position.

Whether it be a first or second dose, a pediatric dose or a booster—we now have access to more than enough vaccines for every eligible Canadian.

And we have contracts in place with our vaccine suppliers that will ensure a steady flow of doses into this country for years to come, if needed.

However, we also know that other tools such as rapid tests are critical, now more than ever, as we face down the highly contagious Omicron variant.

Mr. Chair, PSPC currently has 14 agreements in place with suppliers, with more than 433 million rapid tests secured to date.

This month alone, these agreements are enabling the Public Health Agency of Canada to distribute 140 million rapid tests to provinces and territories to meet urgent needs.

We are planning for steady shipments to continue into Canada over the coming months, but given global demand, supply chain constraints and COVID-19 labour impacts, we know there may be challenges. That is why we are in constant contact with our suppliers to keep close tabs on the situation.

As for border testing, PSPC has put in place new contracts to increase the capacity to collect and process tests for international travellers entering Canada.

The new contracts are structured to allow flexibility ensuring we can adapt to any future border testing requirements.

Mr. Chair, we are also ensuring that Canada has access to effective treatments that can reduce the severity of COVID-19 illness.

Our department has now established agreements for 7 different kinds of therapeutics, and we continue to aggressively pursue additional agreements.

Just yesterday, immediately following Health Canada authorization, the government announced that we have already received our first shipment of more than 30,000 treatment courses of Pfizer’s antiviral COVID-19 treatment Paxlovid, with another 120,000 coming before the end of March.

In total, we have an initial order of 1 million treatment courses of Paxlovid secured under contract, and delivery schedules for those remaining courses are being finalized as we speak.

Mr. Chair, these are just a few examples of the department’s recent work to support Canada’s pandemic response as it evolves.

I look forward to supporting the Government of Canada’s efforts on this front, and I can assure this committee that the department will continue to do whatever is needed to fight COVID-19.

Thank you.

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