Trudeau urges Canadians to 'stay strong' as vaccine deliveries accelerate
Pfizer agrees to move up delivery of 5 million doses; Johnson & Johnson doses expected to arrive in April
Canadians should be able to receive their vaccinations against COVID-19 sooner now that deliveries of vaccine doses ordered by the federal government are speeding up.
Ottawa announced today that millions of additional vaccine doses are expected to arrive from three approved vaccine makers over the spring.
Pfizer-BioNTech agreed to move up delivery of five million vaccine doses to Canada from late summer to June following negotiations with the federal government, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told a press conference in Ottawa today.
The accelerated timeline means the pharmaceutical giant now plans to ship 17.8 million doses between April and June — more than a million doses each week in April and May and another two million per week in June.
Procurement Minister Anita Anand also said the first doses of Johnson & Johnson's one-shot vaccine will arrive at the end of April. While the exact amounts and dates for the Johnson & Johnson product remain in flux, it's the first indication of a delivery schedule since that vaccine was approved by Health Canada over three weeks ago.
Canada also will receive an additional 4.4 million doses of the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine by the end of June, Anand said. Those doses will come from the manufacturer itself, the Serum Institute of India and the COVAX global vaccine initiative.
"As we've been saying for months, and as we've been planning with provinces and territories since last year, the end of March will be followed by an increase in vaccine supply," Trudeau said.
"We now have handily exceeded our promised target of six million doses delivered before April. And this week, we begin our ramp-up phase."
WATCH: Procurement minister says Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccines are expected to arrive in Canada at end of April
More than 3.2 million doses are expected to arrive this week alone, bringing the total number of doses delivered to Canada since vaccinations began in December to 9.5 million.
Almost half of the doses arriving this week come from a shipment of the AstraZeneca-Oxford COVID-19 vaccine that landed today from the United States — one day after provinces suspended its use in people under the age of 55.
Without counting the Johnson & Johnson doses, Anand said Canada is on track to receive 44 million doses of vaccine by Canada Day.
That amount is more than enough to provide one dose to the 31 million Canadians over the age of 16.
But Trudeau also issued a warning that Canadians need to "stay strong a little longer" as case counts and hospitalizations rise across the country, driven by more transmissible variants of the coronavirus. He asked Canadians not to gather or have parties over the Easter/Passover weekend.
"We're entering the final stretch of this crisis," Trudeau said. "I know it's not easy but, together, we will get through this."
Provinces limit use of AstraZeneca-Oxford
The promise of more doses this spring comes as some warn that people may be hesitant to take the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine because of the confusion caused by changing advice about its safety.
The panel of scientific experts that advises the federal government on immunization policy recommended pausing the use of the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine among people under the age of 55 yesterday. It's a precautionary measure in response to possible links between the vaccine and rare but severe instances of blood clots in some immunized patients — notably younger women.
Dr. Shelley Deeks, the vice-chair of the National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI), said the recommendation came after new data from Europe suggested the risk of severe blood clots could be up to one in 100,000 — much higher than the one in one million risk reported before.
Health Canada has ordered AstraZeneca to conduct a study of the risks and benefits of its COVID-19 vaccine across multiple age groups and by sex. NACI's recommendation will remain in place while that study is completed.
The recommendation marked the third time NACI altered its guidance on the vaccine in the past month. It prompted provinces and territories to suspend the use of the AstraZeneca-Oxford in the under-55 age group.
WATCH: AstraZeneca guidance change 'precautionary,' says federal government adviser
Today, Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam said the changing recommendations are the result of evolving science.
"The advice on any medication or vaccine can evolve over time and I think Canadians should be reassured that we have systems in place to detect safety [issues] and then analyze them," said Tam.
Tam said some rare events following vaccination only become apparent after millions of vaccines are administered in the real world. She added that all decisions and guidance from public health officials have been shaped by the "data at hand" and that Canadians can be confident in the vaccines that have been approved.
"This is a rapidly moving pandemic and the vaccines are being put in place after very good clinical trials, but we will obviously continue to see data evolve," said Tam.
"That's only to make sure that we have the best, most safe and effective vaccines."
No blood clots linked to the vaccine have been reported in Canada. About 309,000 doses have been given in Canada to date from the initial shipment of 500,000 two weeks ago. Many provinces initially reserved those doses for people in their 50s and early 60s.
WATCH: Trudeau discusses impact AstraZeneca restrictions could have on overall vaccine rollout
Trudeau urged Canadians to accept the first vaccine that becomes available to them.
"The bottom line for Canadians is the right vaccine for you to take is the very first vaccine that you are offered," he said.
Supply of vaccines unreliable, Ontario's Premier Ford says
Despite today's announcement of doses to come, some provinces say they are experiencing a short-term supply crunch.
In an email on Tuesday afternoon, Ontario Premier Doug Ford's office said the province is still waiting for a shipment of 225,400 Moderna doses that has been delayed until Apr. 7.
The province also expects to receive 583,400 of the AstraZeneca-Oxford doses that arrived today. But the U.S. manufacturing facilities where they were produced still require Health Canada approval and the doses cannot be used until that approval is granted.
"Our ability to get needles into arms grows by the day, but the supply of vaccines isn't keeping up with our ability to deliver them," Ford said today. "We simply don't have enough vaccines or a guarantee when we will get them."
In an interview airing on CBC's Power & Politics this evening, Anand pushed back.
"The claim that we don't have a steady supply coming into the country is completely false," said Anand.
"The reality is that supply of vaccine outpaces the administration that the provinces are undertaking, and so as these vaccine deliveries ramp up ... we're going to need the provinces and territories to really ramp up as well."
With files from The Canadian Press