COVID-19 vaccine could arrive in North in 'coming weeks,' says Trudeau

The territories are scheduled to receive the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine much sooner than expected, pending Health Canada approval, according to an announcement from the prime minister on Tuesday.

Moderna vaccine still needs approval from Health Canada

This file photo taken on Nov. 18 shows a syringe and a bottle next to the Moderna biotech company logo. The company has reported favourable data from its clinical trials so far, paving the way for possible authorization soon in both the U.S. and Canada. (Joel Saget/AFP/Getty Images)

The first doses of the COVID-19 vaccine could arrive in the North much sooner than expected.

"The territories are scheduled to receive doses of the vaccine in the coming weeks pending Health Canada approval," said Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in an announcement on Tuesday.

"We're working to ensure the logistics planning is ready when vaccines are available and have already shipped medical grade freezers to the North."

The comments came as Trudeau announced that Canada is about to receive up to 168,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine, the first of 40 million doses the government has ordered from the pharmaceutical company.

The three territories previously said they had expected the doses to arrive within the first three months of 2021.

On Monday, Canadians in the South began receiving the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, which was approved by Health Canada last week.

The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine must be stored at -70 C to -80 C, whereas the Moderna vaccine must be kept at -20 C.

"That makes [the Moderna vaccine] a better option to ship over long distances to more remote areas. So doses of this vaccine will be directed to the North as well as to remote and Indigenous communities," Trudeau said.

Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says medical grade freezers to store the vaccine have already been shipped to the North. (Blair Gable/Reuters)

Delivery could begin within 48 hours of approval: Trudeau

The government has secured two million early doses of the Moderna vaccine and four million early doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. The vaccines are to be distributed to each province and territory on a per-capita basis. 

"The territories have indicated to us that no, it doesn't make sense for them to receive their portion of doses in the Pfizer product because it's too challenging to use logistically," said Canada's Deputy Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Howard NJoo. "They would prefer to use all Moderna [vaccines], once that's approved."

Trudeau said deliveries could begin within 48 hours of Health Canada approval.

Yukon Health Minister Pauline Frost told reporters she was "super excited" to receive the vaccines, which she said could arrive by the end of December.

In a statement, Frost said said the "most logical course of action" is to send the vaccines in one large delivery.  She said the territory has already received three freezers to help with storage.

Frost said two mobile units will go into rural communities to administer the vaccine, while Whitehorse residents will go to a centralized clinic.

"We will continue to work with our federal colleagues on the delivery logistics so that as soon as the vaccine is approved and ready for distribution, we can begin rolling it out to Yukoners," she said in the statement.

There are several vaccines under consideration by Health Canada, with Pfizer-BioNTech's vaccine the only one approved so far. (CBC News)


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