A video of a Canadian MP quizzing Procurement Minister Anita Anand over contacting India to procure Covid-19 vaccines for the country is being widely shared

A video of a Canadian Opposition lawmaker quizzing sitting Procurement Minister Anita Anand over contacting India to procure Covid-19 vaccines for the country is being widely shared on social media. Michelle Rempel Garner, a Conservative MP and Shadow Minister for Health, in a meeting of the standing committee on health asked if the Trudeau government had reached out to Prime Minister Modi for vaccines.

'Have You Phoned Prime Minister Modi?'

Garner asked, “Has the minister or Prime Minister phoned Prime Minister Modi to ask if we could get vaccines from India?” Anand, clearly caught off-guard responded, "Well, thank you for that question. I am in regular communication with organisations and countries around the world to secure doses of additional vaccines."

Garner again asked, "Have you phoned Prime Minister Modi?" and Anand replied, "I personally have not phoned Prime Minister Modi and I cannot speak for anyone else in our government." To another question asking whether the Prime Minister (Justin Trudeau) had reached out to the Indian government, Anand said, "I do not know." 

On not receiving any answer, Michelle Rempel Garner said, "she doesn't know! That is frightening."

India has been sending out vaccine doses in large numbers to other countries under the "Vaccine Maitri" initiative. Till now, as many as 15 countries have received COVID-19 vaccine supplies from India, while another 25 countries are queued at different levels to receive supplies, Union Minister of External Affairs S Jaishankar has said.

He added that the countries that wish to get vaccines from India include three categories – poor countries, countries which are price-sensitive, and other nations which directly deal with the vaccine-making pharmaceutical companies, according to a report by news agency PTI.

However, Canada has not contacted India so far. Another reason could be trepidation on the part of the Justin Trudeau administration after meddling in India's internal affairs over the farmer protests. Trudeau had said that Canada will always be there to defend the rights of peaceful protests, and expressed concern over the situation.

The matter was taken up with the Canadian authorities both in Ottawa and New Delhi and India conveyed that such comments pertaining to the "internal affairs of India are unwarranted, unacceptable and would damage India-Canada bilateral relations."

Trudeau Tries To Reassure Canadians

Justin Trudeau, last week tried to reassure Canadians his plan to vaccinate them is working despite mounting criticism his government is not getting vaccines soon enough. Trudeau said there is a lot of anxiety and a lot of noise, but said Canada is still on track to get 6 million doses of Pfizer and Moderna vaccines by the end of March and 20 million in the spring. 

Both Pfizer and Moderna have cut the number of doses Canada expected to get thus far, but Trudeau says he still expects to get 4 million doses from Pfizer and 2 million from Moderna by the end of March. Trudeau reiterated that Canada has signed contracts with seven different vaccine makers and he expects Canada will get more doses per person than any other country in the world. 

Trudeau also defended Canada's arrangement for getting doses from the COVAX program coordinated by the World Health Organization, which seeks to ensure that low- and middle-income countries have enough vaccines at a time when wealthy nations have snapped up a large part of the billions of upcoming doses from mostly Western vaccine makers.

"When wealthier countries invest in COVAX, half of that funding is to get doses at home, and the other half is to buy doses for low- and middle-income countries," Trudeau said. "Our contribution was always intended to access vaccine doses for Canadians as well as to support lower-income countries," he said. Trudeau said through COVAX, and pending Health Canada approval, Canada will receive at least 1.9 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine before the end of June. A country that definitely doesn't want to credit India for supplying it with vaccines, Pakistan has also taken the COVAX route to procuring the Covishield vaccine.