OTTAWA – As Canada prepares for the arrival of a COVID-19 vaccine, the federal government is refusing to say if drug manufacturers can face legal liability if there are any adverse effects from their shots, which are rare, but not unheard of.
Health Canada is expected to approve Pfizer’s vaccine candidate any day now, with a quarter of a million doses scheduled to arrive in the country this month.
It’s standard in many countries to offer some legal exemptions to drug manufacturers when a government procures vaccines in an emergency. In a statement however, Health Canada says it can’t release details of its contracts due to confidentiality clauses.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau only offered vague assurances when asked about the issue this week.
“The contract’s signed. There was questions for liability and Canada has undertaken the necessary measures to ensure that everyone is protected,” he said, stressing the government won’t approve a vaccine unless it’s safe.
“Health Canada has one of the most rigorous approval processes in the world,” he added.
Related articles: Who gets Canada’s first COVID vaccines?
Many allies, like the U.S. and the U.K., have compensation funds and programs for anyone who has severe reactions to a vaccine. Canada does not, with the exception of Quebec.
Since Quebec’s program was created in 1988, 53 claims have led to compensations totalling $6.5 million.
Shawn Harmon, a health research who also teaches law at Dalhousie University, says the federal government should follow the lead of their allies and set up a vaccine injury compensation program.
“The existence of a system would assure you that there’s some support if something were to happen,” he says.
Otherwise, Harmon says Canadians would have to turn to litigation.
“It can be very long. It’s massively expensive. It’s very stressful,” he adds.