Health Canada’s COVID-19 Vaccine Order Held up at Chinese Customs: What’s Going on?

Health Canada’s COVID-19 Vaccine Order Held up at Chinese Customs What’s Going on

Nearly two months ago, TrialSite News announced Canada was ready to sign a deal with China’s CanSino Biologics to supply that nation with their COVID-19 experimental vaccine called Ad5-nCoV. That deal in fact was done and it became apparent that Canada becoming dependent on a Chinese company for its COVID-19 vaccine. This was the case despite growing political tensions between the two countries. Shortly thereafter, Health Canada gave the greenlight for clinical trials in Halifax, Nova Scotia. In the meantime, CanSino Biologics was again the first vaccine sponsor to progress their investigational product to a Phase 3 clinical trial. In the case of trials in China, they would occur via the Chinese military for an exclusive one year term. But in the meantime, Canada’s National Research Council has been waiting for its product. What happened?

Surprising Move

First, the news wasn’t widely published in the United States press (for whatever reason). That Canada was depending on a Chinese company for their national COVID-19 vaccine strategy seemed quite odd to the editorial group at TrialSite News. With tensions mounting between the big neighbor to the south and China, Canada’s had its own squabbles and they have grown worse (see below). But why would Canada depend on China for a vaccine for the worst pandemic in modern history? Why not look to the U.S., the U.K, and Europe?

Growing Tension between Canada and China

As reported in Canada’s Global News, Canada and China tensions have been strained for half a year and were consequently intensified by the arrest of Meng Wanzhou, the chief financial officer of Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei Technologies, at the request of the United States. More recently, the relationship soured more when China placed more trade limits on Canadian exports.

Also recently, Canadians Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig were detailed in China while Prime Minister Trudeau suspects there is a link between the detention of the Canadians as a sort of tit for tat for the arrest of Weng Wanzhou in Canada. Since all of this, iPolitics’ Pinkerton reports various Canadian products, from meat to lumber, have been on an export restriction list.

The Arrangement

Two months ago, Canada via its National Research Council announced to proceed with China-based CanSino Biologics to partner with the Chinese firm to test in Canadian clinical trials. Shortly thereafter, TrialSite News announced on May 15 that Health Canada issued no objection for the commencement of clinical trials; the Phase 1/2 clinical trial to evaluate the safety and efficacy of the vaccine was to include 696 participants and conducted by the Canadian Center for Vaccinology (CCfV) at Dalhousie University in Halifax. To be led by principal investigator Dr. Scott Halperin, he reported that the CCfV) would receive $800,000 from the Canadian federal government to conduct the clinical trial assessing the safety and efficacy of Ad5-nCoV. That money won’t arrive until the clinical trial commences.

As part of the deal between Canada and the Chinese company, the National Research Council would be able to produce emergency quantities of the vaccine, should it get approved by Health Canada. CanSino Biologics would retain all intellectual property rights.

The Deal Maker

Apparently that deal was handled by Navdeep Bains, Innovation, Science and Industry Minister for the Canadian government, reports Charlie Pinkerton with Canada’s iPolitics. Now the shipment has been in delay two months later. Health Canada reports that China’s customs are the culprits. Mr. Bains won’t confirm with the press if the delay is related to any political tensions.

Delays: A Coincidence?

The Canadian Center for Vaccinology was planning on initiating the clinical trial after Health Canada’s approval and once it actually received the vaccine product from China, stated John Power, a spokesperson for Mr. Bains, in an email to iPolitics. Dr. Scott Halperin, again the forthcoming study investigator, assumed he would start the study by the end of the month.  

But apparently the CanSino Biologics “has not yet received the final approvals that are required to have the delivery shipped to Canada” stated Powers in an email. He avoided any discussion about the recent trade dispute escalations.

Some Questions

It would appear that the Chinese could be holding back the critical vaccine supply from the Canadians. That even after a good faith partnership was solidified by representatives of the Canadian government and CanSino Biologics. The possibility exists that a hiccup or glitch in Canadian national government bureaucracy could be the culprit but given the urgency around COVID-19, that’s highly doubtful. What is more perplexing to TrialSite News is why didn’t the United States and Canada collaborate more closely during this whole pandemic. Why would Canada have to go and place much of its hopes on a Chinese firm knowing there are mounting tensions with the awareness that China’s government ultimately operates under a different set of ideologies?


  1. This is egregious: if Canada does not commence vaccine trials Canadians lives will be lost as a result. This is also deeply unfortunate as the original RNA vaccine Adenovirus strain was produced in Canada Using our tech – and given to CanSino to develop if I understand the literature correctly.

    1. Stacey thanks for visiting the TrialSIte. Although the TrialSite is a U.S.-based company we have a strong bond with Canada. What a great place all the way around. We are quite concerned about the behavior we are observing. We are not certain if the technology comes out of Canada but the founders of CanSino Biologics had strong ties to Canada and in fact while they were living in Canada the idea for the company was born. If an entire nation does a deal to secure vaccine product there shouldn’t be any weird delays that are probably based on political games. Last time we checked the clinical trial at the Vaccine Center in Halifax was in delay because of this. Perhaps it isn’t as big a deal as we think but the gut certainly flips just a bit.
      Thanks for visiting the TrialSIte

      Best Regards,