Canada doesn't know how many more Moderna doses will be delivered, or why there are delays
Public Health Agency of Canada has already warned provinces to expect fewer Moderna doses this month
Maj.-Gen. Dany Fortin, the military commander leading vaccine logistics at the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC), said today Canada doesn't know how many Moderna doses will arrive in the weeks ahead and the company hasn't said why it has reduced shipments to our country.
Speaking to reporters at a public health briefing, Fortin said 180,000 Moderna doses arrived this morning but the government has no "visibility" on how many more shots will be delivered this month and next.
Despite these unknowns, Fortin said Canada is still expecting two million Moderna doses to be delivered by the end of March to meet the prime minister's promised vaccination targets.
According to a planning document disseminated to the provinces this week, PHAC has already warned provinces to expect disruptions with the next scheduled Moderna delivery, which is set to arrive on Feb. 22.
The Massachusetts-based company, which delivers shots every three weeks, told Canadian officials last week that the shipments for the week of Feb. 1 would be reduced by 20-25 per cent, and now it appears this month's second shipment is also likely to be lower than expected.
"Moderna reduced shipment quantities for the week of 1-7 Feb. (from 230,400 to 180,000 doses). The week of 22 Feb. will also be impacted, but Moderna cannot confirm allocations for that week yet," the PHAC document sent to the province reads.
Fortin said he had no idea just how many doses will be on hand by the end of the month, but he knows it will be less than expected.
"I can't really tell you what the quantity will be. We don't expect to receive 249,000 at this time," he said, referencing the figure the company had previously provided. "We'll soon be able to share that with provinces, in confidence. We just don't know what those numbers are for certain."
Trudeau tries to reassure provinces
Fortin conceded that the dearth of information is "a real limitation in the short term," saying he understood why provinces are frustrated that they've had to cancel appointments and push back second doses as a result of the severe delivery disruptions.
"I completely understand that it's making it more difficult for provinces to prepare clinics," he said.
Amid the anxiety over delivery disruptions, Trudeau spoke for close to an hour on a call with premiers late Thursday, according to multiple sources speaking to CBC News.
Trudeau sought to reassure some frustrated premiers that Canada is still on track to meet its delivery targets for the first quarter even with the companies revising down deliveries this month.
The provinces were told to prepare to quickly vaccinate people once deliveries return to a more normal pace next month, sources said.
WATCH | Moderna vaccine delays remain unexplained:
While Pfizer has offered some explanation for why its shipments have been dramatically lower than expected — plant upgrades at a facility in Belgium caused deliveries to drop by 80 per cent — Fortin said Moderna hasn't said why it's had to put off tens of thousands of doses to a later delivery date.
"They haven't shared the specific challenges that they may experience in their yields or in their production," Fortin said. "I think Moderna has indicated that they are, in good faith, trying their best to provide as many doses as possible."
In a statement to CBC News, a spokesperson for Moderna said the company is trying to step up production at the European facilities that supply Canada with shots.
"Vaccine manufacturing is a highly complex process. In normal circumstances it may take three to four years to prepare for the industrial launch of a vaccine. Moderna is proud of its achievements to date with the support of its partners," the spokesperson said.
While Canada's Moderna supply will be curtailed this month, the company is churning out more shots in the U.S. Shipments there have increased by about 35 per cent in the last week.
We should not be drawing away from poorer countries — we should be having the capacity here. We're a G7 country and we're trailing.- Conservative Leader Erin O'Toole
The spokesperson said, because Moderna's vaccine was partially funded by monies from former president Donald Trump's Operation Warp Speed, it is obligated to send a certain number of doses to the U.S. this quarter.
"Moderna has provided short term revised delivery guidance outside of the U.S., including to the government of Canada, based on the ramp up trajectory of drug substance manufacturing in Switzerland," the spokesperson said.
To meet the prime minister's target of six million COVID-19 shots delivered by the end of March, more than 3.5 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna products will have to be delivered in the month of March alone — or roughly 885,000 doses a week.
Pfizer, which delivers its product weekly, is expected to deliver 79,000 doses this week and an additional 70,000 doses for the week of Feb. 8., before ramping up at month's end.
Canada ranks 33rd on vaccine effort
Health Canada regulators are expected to approve another promising vaccine candidate — the product from AstraZeneca — in the "coming days," which could give a jolt to Canada's stalled vaccination campaign.
But for that product, too, Fortin said he didn't know how many, if any, doses would be delivered in the coming weeks. He said PHAC has developed a number of possible delivery scenarios if AstraZeneca secures the green light, but that information would not be made public.
Canada has fallen behind other developed nations in the number of shots administered per capita as supply disruptions derail planned vaccinations.
According to data collated by the University of Oxford-based Our World in Data, Canada now ranks 33rd globally, well behind allies like the United States and the United Kingdom but also middle-income countries like Turkey and Serbia.
Canada's vaccination effort has also been outpaced so far by those in Bahrain, Denmark, Germany, Israel, Italy, Malta, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovenia, Spain and the United Arab Emirates, among others.
Canada's decision to tap COVAX supply draws opposition fire
The government, meanwhile, is under fire on another vaccine-related matter. Canada has opted to receive shots from COVAX, a vaccine-sharing initiative funded by wealthier countries to ensure low- and middle-income countries have access to shots.
In announcing funding for the initiative last year — Canada is among the most generous financial donors to the program — the prime minister said the country intended to draw on the COVAX supply to bolster the vaccination campaign at home.
But now some opposition leaders say it is an embarrassment that Canada is intending to rely on this program for additional doses. COVAX has said Canada will receive at least 1.9 million AstraZeneca doses from the program by the end of June.
Green Party Leader Annamie Paul said Canada's move to take doses from COVAX could prolong transmission of the virus elsewhere and allow more variants to mutate.
"This is the wrong decision, this is the wrong time to make this decision," she said.
"People in Canada do not want this kind of decision made in their name. So, we are asking for the government to either rescind this decision, or alternatively make up for whatever doses it has taken out by returning them to the COVAX facility so that our international neighbours can enjoy the same protection we do; so we can get out of this pandemic together."
As the only G7 country slated to draw doses from the COVAX facility, Paul said the decision also harms Canada's international reputation.
WATCH | NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh slams COVAX decision:
Speaking in question period, Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland said the government will do it all can to bolster Canadian supply, even if it means tapping a program principally designed for developing countries.
"Our government will never apologise for doing everything in our power to get Canadians vaccinated as quickly as possible," Freeland said. "We've been clear from the start: no one will be safe until everyone is. We're focused on getting Canadians vaccinated while making sure the rest of the world is vaccinated too."
Conservative Leader Erin O'Toole declined to say if he would accept the supplies from COVAX if he were prime minister, insisting Canada would not be facing this dilemma under his leadership.
"It's hard for me to divorce the inaction of the government over the last 10 months with what I would do today. We would not be in this position today because last year I was asking for independence on everything from PPE to vaccine manufacturing," he said.
"We should not be drawing away from poorer countries — we should be having the capacity here. We're a G7 country and we're trailing," he said.
While a laggard compared to many other wealthy nations, Canada has administered more shots per capita than G7 partner Japan.
Japan, with a population of 126 million people and just 5,400 COVID-19-related deaths, hasn't yet started its vaccination campaign. Unlike Canada, Japan is planning to produce 90 million shots of the AstraZeneca vaccine domestically.
With files from the CBC's Kathleen Harris