An all Canadian Silver Lining - Done Right Without Government Support

Rivers 100x100By Ray Rivers

February 17th, 2021



In even the darkest days of our lives, and 2020 has been the darkest I can remember, there are some silver linings. For example, on-line sales have never been better. Naturally, Amazon is the first thing we think of but other companies have also done well in this area.

While searching out a source of respirators on-line, I located a company selling Canadian made n95 surgical masks for less than $5 each. Mikhail Moore, a Vancouver engineer got together with some like-minded entrepreneurs and health specialists from McMaster University to design and manufacture respirators last summer. And in a matter of months he had ramped up a manufacturing facility and was turning out a million Vitacore face masks a month, including the highly effective n95 which had been in short supply only a few months earlier.

Vitacore masks

Purely Canadian

One problem Mr. Moore encountered was that Canada doesn’t even have standards for respirators. We simply adopt the US NIOSH standard, but for a Canadian that means one can only get certification if the product is manufactured in the USA. So Vitacore had to work with the National Research Council and Health Canada in order to obtain an interim certification order to meet the US standard.

Canada is apparently nearly self-sufficient in PPE now, according to the PM. But that doesn’t answer the question about why we were so unprepared at the beginning of the pandemic. Following the SARS outbreak two decades ago, Dr. Teresa Tam, currently Canada’s chief public health officer, authored the Canadian manual on pandemics. That included a call for a 16 week stockpile of personal protection equipment (PPE) in order to cover potentially two waves of a pandemic in this country.

But over the years, and over the last two governments, the stockpile had diminished. Then, in early February last year, the health minister shipped the last 16 tonnes of PPE to China to help them with their COVID fight. The government obviously believed the risk of an outbreak here was minimal. And for that reason neither did they initially close the border to prevent travellers from China and elsewhere bringing the virus with them.

And then a month or so later our hospitals were becoming overwhelmed and long term care was in such a mess that the army had to be called in. And, of course, the PPE we all needed was in critically short supply. Our traditional supply from the US had been blocked by Donald Trump. The hapless bureaucracy at Health Canada ignored offers by companies like Honeywell to send us masks from their factory in Mexico. And shipments from China had to be discarded as unsafe.

So health care workers re-used their disposable masks, and made their own cloth ones, or got sick, and possibly infected even more people in the community. And Dr. Tam shamelessly delivered a barrage of mixed messages about masks, including her initial comments that people were safer without one, as health officials everywhere debated what should have been obvious.

PPE graphic

The Atlanta based Centre for Disease Control provides information and specifications for PPE.

And unfortunately it wasn’t just about PPE. Canada’s entire record on this epidemic is abysmal. Whether it’s the federal government failing to secure our borders from day one or the provincial premiers lessening restrictions too soon. And now the question is whether these jurisdictions can get us vaccinated before another variant shows up and possibly renders the vaccine irrelevant.

Australia has announced that they will be manufacturing their own AstraZeneca vaccine and therefore have more control over its supply than we do. Of course, the Aussies, with near zero COVID transmission, don’t have to be in a hurry. Still, at least we Canadians now have affordable Canadian-made face masks. And if we used them we should be able to protect ourselves and our children, at least until the vaccines do arrive and get jabbed into our arms.

Vitacore mask prod line

Face masks coming off the Vitacore production line.

Vitacore has already moved forward to develop an even more efficient n99 mask and is anticipating the potential export of their products. The company is also embarking on a timely recycling program for used/soiled PPE in cooperation with McMaster University. They are setting up drop-off stations in Vancouver and will be sanitizing and palletizing the material for reuse in road building.

And another silver lining when we consider all the money the governments have been spilling, is that Vitacore has not needed federal or provincial subsidies to make their business model work. I wonder whether Vitacore president Mikhail Moore has ever thought about running for public office. We certainly could use some of those leadership skills.

Rivers hand to faceRay Rivers, born in Ontario earned an economics degree at the University of Western Ontario and a Master’s degree in economics at the University of Ottawa.  His 25 year stint with the federal government included time with Environment, Fisheries and Oceans, Agriculture and the Post office.  Rivers is active in his community; has run for municipal and provincial office.


Background links:

Vitacore –     PPE for China –    Canada’s PPE

Turning Down Masks –    Government Mess –    Standards

Nearly Self-Sufficient –    Canada’s Plan

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1 comment to An all Canadian Silver Lining – Done Right Without Government Support

  • perryb

    Nice thought, Ray, but should Mikhail Moore run for public office (above the municipal level) he would quickly be subsumed by political and bureaucratic forces that actively suppress any creativity or independence. Better to be where he is, doing good things.