The House of Commons public accounts committee ordered the Department of Public Works to surrender secret COVID vaccine contracts for scrutiny. According to Blacklock's Reporter, Pfizer executives threatened that Canada could lose its "reputation" and foreign investment if MPs insisted on reading contracts that cost taxpayers $5 billion.
Bloc Québécois MP Nathalie Sinclair-Desgagné assured the pharmaceutical company that "Confidential information would remain confidential."
"We simply want to ensure there was no abuse and that if mistakes were made, we could learn from them."
On Thursday, MPs voted to have public works hand over all contracts to 11 public accounts committee members in a closed room without access to smartphones, cameras or written notes, reported Blacklock's.
Health Canada signed vaccine contracts with seven manufacturers, including AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson, Medicago, Moderna, Novavax, Pfizer and Sanofi.
Pfizer executives testified at the committee, insisting that secret terms should never be shown to MPs under any circumstances.
"Disclosure of our confidential agreement would be an extraordinary use of authority," said Najah Sampson, president of Pfizer Canada.
"Carefully consider our perspective before creating a precedent with unintended consequences on Canada's reputation," continued Sampson. "It would send a strong message to business partners and companies looking to invest that confidentiality protections negotiated in good faith with the federal government may not be binding here in Canada."
According to Blacklock's Reporter, Conservative MP Kelly McCauley dismissed the threat, noting confidential Pfizer contracts had already been leaked in Albania, Brazil, Colombia, Peru, the United States and the United Kingdom.
"There are implied threats to investment in Canada if 11 MPs in a private room have access?" said McCauley. The implied threat of 11 MPs reviewing the contracts would not risk Canadian investment as Pfizer did not divest where leaks occurred.
Cabinet earlier demanded that MPs take an oath of secrecy to see the vaccine contracts — a demand the committee rejected.
"What is so damaging to you or the government that allowing Members of Parliament to review them privately would be such a concern?" asked Conservative MP Garnett Genuis.
"We have a right to access this information," he said, adding, "this situation is outrageous."
Health Canada previously ordered 238 million doses of COVID vaccines from Pfizer Canada to vaccinate residents, including 30 million for 2023 and 2024.
Though they did not disclose costs, industry rates from all vaccine manufacturers ranged from $14.50 per dose in the European Union to $19.50 in the United States.
In a December 6 report, Canada's Auditor General said costs averaged about $30 per dose.
According to the report, Health Canada had a large surplus that the agency expected would happen, leading to vaccine wastage before the country could use them domestically or donate them abroad. After the fact, they also purchased more doses from Pfizer and Moderna, further contributing to the vaccine oversupply.
Canada's Auditor General uncovered an estimated $1 billion in wasted COVID vaccines that expired at the end of December. She blamed distribution and tracking issues caused by government negligence.
Auditor General Karen Hogan said the federal software program, VaccineConnect, did not adequately keep track of doses. Deloitte designed and managed the program on a nearly $60-million contract, of which $37.4 million has since been spent as of last December.
Hogan also identified pervasive issues in getting information from provinces and territories on vaccine usage and safety in her report. Many provinces declined to provide information to the Public Health Agency of Canada, vaccine companies and the World Health Organization (WHO).
Since December 2020, Ottawa has purchased approximately 169 million doses for nearly $5 billion.
With Canadians receiving 84.1 million doses since the vaccine became available for distribution, Hogan said 32.5 million doses remain unused as of May 2022, and another 13.6 million doses have already expired.
The Auditor General's report reads: "Officials explained that, because of the evolving nature of the pandemic, there was a need to keep buying optional doses, to expand coverage, to accelerate deliveries and to address waning immunity and changes in vaccine administration guidelines, such as shortened booster intervals and the National Advisory Committee on Immunization advice recommending the use of a certain vaccine type."
Hogan also criticized the requirements outlined in these purchase agreements to buy minimum numbers of doses.
"While the organizations involved were successful in securing vaccines and quickly distributing them to the provinces and territories, the Public Health Agency of Canada's efforts to minimize wastage were unsuccessful," she said.