Not only has Volpe written to President Biden, he also phoned the White House on Thursday to ask: “Couldn’t you help us get back to normal?”
While Canada continues to wait on deliveries of vaccines — many of them reduced in size — from Europe and India, the United States continues to ramp up inoculation. Biden is already well on pace to exceed his goal of 100 million vaccinations in his first 100 days in office. And, according to the Centers from Disease Control and Prevention, at least 26 million doses have been administered in Biden's first three weeks in office.
Thursday, Biden said the U.S. had secured contractual commitments from Moderna and Pfizer to deliver 600 million doses of the vaccine — enough to inoculate 300 million Americans — by the end of July, more than a month earlier than initially anticipated.
In his letter, Volpe noted America’s rapid pace of vaccination.
“With your administration’s strong progress against domestic goals bearing fruit in the heavy task of vaccinating Americans across the country, we ask that you give due consideration to relieving the same threat across the integrated economies of North America,” he wrote. “Canada, and Mexico, face a material vaccination gap to the U.S.A. due to international sourcing dynamics. That gap may be as long as six months or more. We ask that your administration consider the unique integration of our economies and our collective history of partnership and revisit the principles of the EO 13962 for your closest allies.”
Volpe says a widening gap could lead to fewer investments in Canada.
“If you have 100-per-cent mobility in the major market you serve, and you still have restrictions … there is a vast difference and there is a competitive advantage to operating in the U.S. for three to six months,” Volpe said in an interview Friday with Automotive News Canada. “Sometimes, that means you temporarily shift source dynamics. And you never want to be on the wrong side of that temporary shift. Temporary shifts become permanent.”
Volpe said there is little Canadian auto suppliers can do to help themselves right now, unlike a year ago.
“When the pandemic first hit, there was a shortage of things, and we could figure that out,” said Volpe, whose members helped make ventilators and parts of hand-sanitizing dispensers. “Now, as the pandemic drags on, the shortage is of a very, very complex and delicate life-saving or life-altering product. It’s out of our hands. We, as an industry, can’t do anything about vaccine supply.
“There’s nothing the current government can do to bail us out. Now we’re relying on our friends.”
Volpe said he couldn’t wait any longer to ask for help.
“The purpose of me trying to get to it early is that, yes, [the current vaccine shortage] could be nothing, but this the only time to address it. If I didn’t, and we’re six months out, and it’s something, I don’t have a time machine to go back and fix it,” he said.
‘WE NEED A PLAN’
Volpe is not alone in the push for action. Brian Kingston, the head of the Canadian Vehicle Manufacturers’ Association, which represents the interests of Stellantis, Ford and General Motors in Canada, said “it’s frustrating” to watch the Americans widen the gap.
“The worry is the United States get to a point perhaps as early as the springtime where a large segment of the population is vaccinated could create more tensions and a thickening of the border,” he said. “When you have a huge number of Americans vaccinated, there will be an increasing demand to return to somewhat normal pre-pandemic business travel and movement.
“If we’re not at the same level, I can envision some situations where we still have very stringent border restrictions.
“I’m not suggesting we suddenly relax and loosen up the rules we have at the border, but we need a plan.”
Volpe agrees that a vaccination gap creates problems at the border and inside boardrooms.
“If all your American colleagues can travel to headquarters in Michigan, and you can’t, and, if American service and operational specialists can fly around the U.S. to go to launches and attend to issues at a plant, how long will that last before we don’t get invited, until companies reconfigure?” he said. “How do you deal with a request to open the border when what you’re doing is exposing a population? A lot of stuff in the auto industry happens over delays of a day, a week or a month.”
The APMA estimates that 30 per cent of all parts used in Michigan-based assembly plants come from suppliers in Ontario. A vaccination gap and restricted border make it more difficult for Canadian executives to make pitches and land business.
Kingston said the biggest challenge is the fact Canada doesn’t have “vaccines in mass doses, yet.”
“There are long-term impacts that we need to be cognizant of,” Kingston said, noting mid-size suppliers are most at risk. “At a time when economic recovery is so critical — we need investment to get moving and we need production to get back to normal — the last thing we want is a self-inflicted wound that slows down that process.
“We take ourselves out of the picture because we haven’t been able to roll out the vaccine efficiently.”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Friday said Canada purchased an extra four million doses of COVID-19 vaccine from Moderna. He said Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla has also confirmed the company will deliver on its contract to ship four million doses of its vaccine with BioNTech by the end of March.
Deliveries will then accelerate with 10.8 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine expected from April to June.
Trudeau said Canada is now set to receive 84 million doses from Pfizer and Moderna by the end of September — the only two vaccines approved by Health Canada so far.
The Associated Press and The Canadian Press contributed to this report.