Alberta expects roughly 680,000 vaccine doses will arrive in early 2021

Should ongoing trials for two COVID-19 vaccine candidates continue successfully, Alberta expects it will receive around 680,000 doses early in the new year.

Dr. Hinshaw says it's contingent on the safety and effectiveness of the vaccines

Both Moderna and Pfizer have announced that preliminary results from their Phase 3 clinical trials show their vaccines are more than 90 per cent effective in protecting against the coronavirus infection. (Dado Ruvic/Reuters)

Should ongoing trials for two COVID-19 vaccine candidates continue successfully, Alberta expects it will receive around 680,000 doses early in the new year.

Speaking Wednesday at a press conference, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, the province's chief medical officer of health, said potential distribution depends on the safety and effectiveness of the vaccines.

"So all of those checks and balances must be cleared," Hinshaw said. "If that does happen, [there] is a per-capita allocation of vaccine."

Should all go well, Alberta expects to receive 465,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine and 221,000 of the Moderna vaccine for a total of 686,000 doses.

Earlier this week, Moderna said its vaccine appears to be 94.5 per cent effective. That followed a similar announcement from Pfizer Inc., which said Wednesday new test results show its vaccine is 95 per cent effective.

Both are among the seven vaccines Canada pre-ordered to make sure Canadians were at "the front of the line" for potential vaccines.

In a statement posted to Twitter, Alberta Health Minister Tyler Shandro said the first shipments were likely to arrive in 2021.

"We will be working with [Alberta Health Services] and federal public health officials to prioritize distribution for Alberta's most vulnerable, health-care workers and residents in continuing care," Shandro said.

Infectious disease expert says doses 'a good start'

Craig Jenne, an associate professor at the University of Calgary in the department of microbiology, immunology and infectious diseases, said the expected doses represented "a good start."

"We have to keep in mind that both of these vaccine formulations require two shots," Jenne said. "So, we're looking at a little more than 600,000 doses in total, which means we can vaccinate a little more than 300,000 Albertans."

Craig Jenne, who teaches microbiology and infectious diseases at the University of Calgary, says initial doses of a potential vaccine would help to cover some at-risk patients and front-line health-care workers. (Jennifer Lee/CBC)

To put that in perspective, Jenne said Alberta ordered almost two million doses of influenza vaccine this year.

"So it's a small number of vaccine doses compared to what we're normally doing for the flu," he said. "But this is a good start and will allow us to start tackling some of the most at-risk patients, and hopefully a good percentage of our front-line health-care workers."

Jenne said it was important to remember that the numbers announced represent just the start of the distribution process across Canada.

"I'm optimistic we'll see a vaccine approved in Canada very early 2021. I think Canadians have to be watching for, does this get approved by the FDA for emergency use, and then when is it submitted and approved by Health Canada," Jenne said. "Because those are really the next big roadblocks or speed bumps.

"Once that's approved, we'll start to see the vaccine roll out. Early in at-risk patients, and then as we get those looked after, we'll be able to open it up to public vaccinations."

Majority of Canadians to receive vaccine by end of 2021

Speaking Tuesday, Canada's deputy chief public health officer said the "optimistic outlook" could see most Canadians being vaccinated by the end of 2021.

"Certainly, we're looking at hopefully covering the vast majority of the Canadian population … by the end of next year," Dr. Howard Njoo said. "But like I say, this is something that is happening in real time and certainly there will be adjustments made as we move along."

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The federal government is finalizing its plan to roll out COVID-19 vaccines once they are available in Canada. The plan needs to include how to transport, store and deliver millions of doses quickly and may involve military assistance.

Meanwhile, researchers at the University of Alberta are seeking to secure rough data by Christmas with a national survey on who should receive the vaccine first.

The National Advisory Committee on Immunization has recommended that certain key populations receive the COVID-19 vaccine first, including those with high-risk conditions, health-care workers and those workers who cannot work virtually.

Speaking at a press conference held Tuesday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said distributing the vaccine across Canada will represent a "significant logistical challenge."

"[It's] one which the government is focused on and working on ardently to be able to make sure that as vaccines arrive, they are getting out to the most vulnerable and the people who need it on a priority basis," he said.

Despite the news of a vaccine on the horizon, Trudeau cautioned that Canadians will still need to take regular COVID-19 precautions as cases surge across Canada.

Another 732 new cases were reported in Alberta on Wednesday, with 10,057 active cases across the province. COVID-19 has killed 110 Albertans so far during November, the worst month of the pandemic.

With files from Peter Zimonjic and David Cochrane.