According to an internal audit, Canada’s health agency confirmed it discarded millions of medical supplies the year before the COVID pandemic, forcing a rushed leasing of three warehouses to store new supplies.
“Three temporary warehouse facilities were contracted,” wrote auditors. While they did not disclose the emergency leasing costs, they acknowledged Health Canada signed them in a hurry “due to the pandemic and the urgency for the acquisition of stockpile warehouse space.”
The auditors also admitted “significant dependence on these warehouse facilities,” said a report titled Audit Of The Security Of National Emergency Strategic Stockpile Warehouse Facilities.
Though the report did not disclose their location, Blacklock’s Reporter learned the location of at least one in Winnipeg.
According to internal records, Health Canada closed three warehouses in 2019 to save $900,000 in leasing costs. But the health department discarded millions of dollars of medical supplies, including 5.4 million high-grade N95 masks, 2.4 million surgical masks, more than a million medical gloves and 3,010 surgical grounds.
A consultant CPCS Transcom Limited assessment ascertained that “strategically moving from nine warehouses to six would increase management efficiency while effectively providing the same response capacity,” said a briefing note, National Emergency Strategic Stockpile.
“The federal government would also save $900,000…[and] find a more effective and cost-efficient solution” to storing pandemic supplies,” it continues. However, Health Canada staff claim they did not close the warehouses owing to budget cuts.
“There have been no budget reductions for the stockpile in recent years,” staff wrote in an April 21, 2020 memo PPE Quality And National Emergency Strategic Stockpile.
On May 18, 2020, Sally Thornton, then-manager of the emergency medical stockpile, testified at the Commons government operations committee that the agency had ample funding in its $675 million budget to maintain warehouses. “It was not related to specific budget cuts,” said Thornton. “No, it was not driven by specific cuts.”
According to Blacklock’s Reporter, public health managers have yet to explain why they failed to maintain stockpiles of medical supplies despite knowing their essential nature.
“The stockpile is insurance,” said one briefing note. “Personal protective equipment is vital to the safety of front line health care workers across Canada,” read another.
After Canada declared the COVID pandemic on March 11, 2020, the agency acknowledged its mistake. “We are facing a real crunch today,” said a March 20 staff email.
“We have received urgent requests for personal protective equipment, primarily N95s,” wrote staff. “The requests, particularly for N95s, far exceed our stockpile. The team is working on trying to triage, and we have modest stock coming in, but too late.”
On February 6, MPs also questioned why the agency wasted $1 billion of the $5 billion it spent on 169 million COVID jabs, according to Blacklock’s Reporter. Of those purchased, Canada received 124.9 million doses and used 84.1 million to vaccinate residents.
“Wastage is inevitable in any immunization program,” Harpreet Kochhar, president of the Public Health Agency of Canada, testified at the Commons public accounts committee. “When we started the vaccination campaign, the unavoidable wastage was around 3%.”
“Do we have data on the number of lives saved per capita if we compare Canada and the United States?” asked Liberal MP Peter Fragiskatos. “We have done a study in which we modelled, and almost 800,000 lives were saved,” replied Kochhar.
He said Canada avoided 1.9 million hospitalizations and 34 million COVID cases by ensuring early access to vaccines and maintaining lockdown measures but did not elaborate. They estimate almost 51,000 Canadians died of the respiratory virus and 4.6 million known infections.
In a December 6 report by the Auditor General, Health Canada wasted about $1 billion worth of vaccine doses. “The Public Health Agency was unsuccessful in its efforts to minimize vaccine wastage,” reads the report Covid-19 Vaccines.
“At the end of May 2022, there were 32.5 million doses in inventory, and using unclassified and public documentation, we estimated those doses to be worth about $1 billion,” wrote auditors. “The Public Health Agency ended up with a large surplus of doses” at an average loss of $30 per dose.