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Part Two: Q&A – Buyers Be Aware: The Lessons of COVID-19 with André Picard

A photo of André Picard

On November 26th, HealthPRO hosted the Globe and Mail’s award-winning health reporter and columnist, André Picard for a member-exclusive webinar titled: Buyers Be Aware: The Lessons of COVID-19.

A month ago we published a summary of this lively discussion about Canada’s response to the first wave of the pandemic, and what Canadians, particularly procurement professionals, have learned so far.

Now, we’re pleased to share a summary of the Q&As that followed:

Q&A Session

Do you ever think that we will, or should, go back to mainly procuring from international markets for critical equipment and medications?

AP: One of the big changes in the pandemic is that countries have been much more closed in on themselves. We've talked about the importance of domestic production. So, I think that's going to be a priority all over the world. There’s going to be lots of government programs to incentivize building plants here.

I think, if anything, that will be accelerated. As we speak here, there’s a debate in parliament where Trudeau is being grilled about vaccines. ‘Why are we down the list?’ ‘Why are we number five? Why aren’t we number one?’

Well, the government did invest in a plant, but these things are not built overnight. It won’t be finished until July 2021, and it certainly won’t produce billions of doses. The reality is that the public has unreal expectations about [domestic manufacturing]; you cannot manufacture ultra-cold fridges in every country – you can only do that in one or two.

I think we have to be careful not to close ourselves off to the world too much. Especially since we are a small country. What is really telling is that we're buying our vaccine from Germany and Switzerland, not the US. They're not going to share it. That’s another reason we need some domestic capabilities in some areas.

Will the cost of domestic production be affordable and sustainable in the long run?

AP: I think it will certainly be more expensive and more costly. We must find a way of doing it sensibly. I worry about jingoism [in this case meaning an intense ‘made in Canada’ type of thinking]. Twenty-five years ago, I wrote a book about the tainted blood-tragedy, and one of the issues at the heart of it was this egotistical – ‘we have to make blood-products in Canada’ – type of thinking and rhetoric.

We built a plant in Toronto and it was a failure, and as a result we imported blood, partially from prisons, and that was all about jingoism, even though we know it didn’t work. There are certainly things much more important to a patient than a ‘made in Canada’ sticker on the side of things.

What are your thoughts on how the government keeps records on vaccines?

AP: I think it’s an example of how we underuse technology. We have great things, such as the CAN-immunize app that I use to keep track of my kids’ vaccines. The problem is that it isn’t built into the system, and our approach needs to be universal.

I attended a virtual conference regarding virtual health in Denmark. There, everyone has a vaccine record available to patients, pharmacists, and care providers. It’s updated automatically. This isn’t Star-Trek level technology; it’s something they’ve been doing since the 80s and 90s.

What would you see as a model for planning for health human resources at a system level, either provincially or nationally?

AP: I don't think there's any one magic option that works better than others, but I think that what we have to do in policy in Canada is just make choices and then follow through on them. We have these weird things, for example, that we train more pediatricians than geriatricians. Even though our society's getting a lot older with a lot fewer kids, we just keep cranking pediatricians out. Why? Well, because we've always had, and we've been doing this since the 1960s in the baby booms. We just keep doing it.

A large percentage of personal care homes are owned and governed by private corporations who naturally have a desire for a profitable bottom line. What are your thoughts on a realistic plan to address the many issues you spoke to recognizing this reality? Is it realistic to bring these under the control of the public system?

AP: Part of the question was how realistic it is – well, it's not realistic at all. In Ontario, 40 per cent of homes are for-profit. If you want to get rid of them tomorrow, you're cooked. Now, how did they fare? I think there's no question that for-profit homes did poorly during the pandemic. They had more deaths, they had more infections. Why did they have more deaths? Because of history. It wasn't necessarily because they were private, it was because of their structure, which lent itself to the spread of disease.

So, I think the way to address this is to just decide, what the standards are for homes, and then figure out who we want to deliver them. I think it's really simplistic to just say get rid of all private.

When a COVID-19 vaccine is available do you anticipate they will be forced or mandatory?

AP: In Canada, we don’t have a history of forced vaccination. I’m a proponent of vaccines, but not forcing people to do things. If we can’t convince people to receive a vaccine in the 21st century, then that’s a failure on our end. I think we give a lot of attention and worry toward
anti-vaxxers, when in reality, they’re a very small minority of people.

Read the full recap


If you weren’t able to join us live, you can read the full webinar recap at any time.

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