Vaccine supply

Learn how the Government of Canada (GC) develops best practices for provinces and territories to buy, store and handle vaccines for Canadians. Also find out how the GC works to address and prevent vaccine supply gaps or delays.

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Buying vaccines

Provinces and territories are responsible for buying the vaccines that they use in their programs. The GC makes sure that these vaccine purchases are coordinated, equitable and affordable. This guarantees a steady supply of quality vaccines for all Canadians. 

It also collaborates with provincial and territorial partners to oversee, supply and distribute vaccines. Some of these activities include:

  • finding quality vaccine supply at the best prices
  • making recommendations on awarding contracts to buy vaccines
  • monitoring vaccine supply and prices
  • developing strategies to make sure the vaccine supply remains steady, including preventing any vaccine supply gaps

Buying vaccines for Canadians is a specialized process. Vaccines are different from other pharmaceutical and health products in several ways:

  • Vaccines are complex products. Manufacturing and production problems can happen from time to time. Using several manufacturers makes sure there is enough vaccine available if there are any problems.
  • Vaccines have a limited shelf life and are sensitive to temperature changes. This means they require careful management of their transportation, storage and handling.
  • Manufacturing a vaccine is a long and complicated process. It can take several months to years for a vaccine to be ready for the public. Because of this, the demand for supply must be estimated in advance of when the vaccine needs to be used. 

Regular childhood vaccines are funded by the provincial and territorial government. This means parents and guardians either do not pay for their child's vaccination or pay very little.

How vaccine contracts are awarded

The GC works with vaccine manufacturers on behalf of interested provincial and territorial governments. It award contracts on behalf of these jurisdictions, who use these contracts to purchase their vaccines for public programs and then supply them to:

  • local public health clinics
  • doctors' offices
  • pharmacies

The GC has an open, fair and transparent process for awarding contracts to supply vaccines. The GC procures goods and services at the best value for Canadians.

You can find previously awarded contracts to Canadian vaccine manufacturers, available contracts for suppliers and guidelines on how the GC awards contracts on the GC  Buy and sell website.

Handling and storing vaccines

Vaccines must be handled carefully by trained personnel from the time they are made to when they are given to patients. This ensures Canadians have a steady supply of safe and effective vaccines. 

Vaccines may become less effective when exposed to sunlight and extreme temperatures. Most vaccines must maintain a temperature of between 2 to 8°C at all times. If the product is ever exposed to temperatures outside this range, the vaccine may have to be destroyed. This waste could mean there may not be enough vaccine for those who need it.

In partnership with the GC, the Canadian Nurses Coalition on Immunization developed the National Vaccine Storage and Handling Guidelines for Immunization Providers. These guidelines describe the:

  • temperature range for keeping vaccines
  • responsibilities of personnel handling and storing vaccines
  • right equipment needed to store vaccines safely
  • best practices for stock management, including vaccine distribution and disposal guidelines

Vaccine supply and demand

Vaccine manufacturers put measures in place to provide a steady supply of vaccine to Canadians. However, sometimes situations can cause a delay in getting vaccines to those who need it, but this is unusual.

There are rare occasions when vaccine supply falls short of actual demand due to an:

  • issue in the production of a particular batch of vaccine
  • if a problem is found in a sample of vaccine before it is sold for use, the entire batch may need to be destroyed
  • outbreak of a disease, and the demand is higher than the supply

Because vaccines can take several months or longer to make, it is not always possible to make more vaccine quickly. The GC often contracts with multiple suppliers for a vaccine in case one supplier has a problem. If the supply runs low, the GC works with vaccine manufacturers and provincial and territorial health authorities to:

  • coordinate vaccine sharing fairly between provinces and territories, where  needed
  • seek additional supply from other vaccine manufacturers
  • reach agreement on the best use of limited vaccine supplies

For more information on vaccines and programs in your area, contact your individual province or territory.  

Supply levels are reported by manufacturers when a drug in demand will take more than 20 days to be supplied. Check out the Canadian Drug Shortage Database to see which drugs or vaccines are running low or have been resupplied.

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