As Canada falls behind other countries on vaccinations, Trudeau promises to 'scale up' deliveries

With some provinces warning about a looming shortage of vaccines, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said today the government is negotiating with manufacturers to move up deliveries to get more shots into the arms of Canadians sooner.

Canada expects to receive 4 million doses of the Pfizer product, 2 million Moderna shots by the end of March

Long-term care nurse Limin Liu, right, takes a selfie as registered nurse Sasha Vartley, left, vaccinates her with the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 mRNA vaccine in Toronto on Tuesday, December 15, 2020. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press)

With some provinces warning about a looming shortage of vaccines, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said today the government is negotiating with manufacturers to move up deliveries to get more shots into the arms of Canadians sooner.

Canada's vaccination effort has been outpaced so far by those in the U.S., the United Kingdom, Bahrain, Denmark, Israel, Italy and the United Arab Emirates, among others.

According to the latest data collated by the University of Oxford-based Our World in Data, Canada has also administered more shots per capita than G7 partners like Germany and France and middle-income countries like Argentina and Croatia.

The federal government has delivered 548,950 doses of the two-dose Pfizer and Moderna products so far, with thousands more doses expected to arrive each week in the months to follow.

Of those doses, 249,531 have been administered, with 0.66 per cent of the population having received at least one shot. The U.S., which has shipped 21.4 million doses nationwide, has so far vaccinated three times more people per capita than Canada.

"Quantities of both the Pfizer and the Moderna vaccine will scale up in February. We need to make sure we're getting those doses as quickly as possible and I can assure you that we continue ongoing conversations with the companies about accelerating the schedule of delivery so we can get Canadians vaccinated as quickly and efficiently as possible," Trudeau said.

Trudeau repeated the government's commitment to vaccinating every Canadian who wants a shot by the end of September. The country will have to administer roughly 100,000 doses a day for the next 265 days if it's going to vaccinate every adult in Canada by that time.

That ambitious target also depends on Health Canada approving other promising vaccine candidates, like those from AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson's pharmaceutical division, Janssen, sometime this year.

While his government's vaccination program got off to a slow start, Ontario Premier Doug Ford said today that the province will easily run through its existing allotment in the coming days as the inoculation campaign becomes more efficient at administering shots.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau delivers remarks to a news conference outside Rideau Cottage in Ottawa. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

Toronto's University Health Network, which has been busy inoculating long-term care workers and health care providers since Dec. 15, said Friday it was already out of doses.

"I have spoken with the CEOs of both companies this week already, and I will continue to engage with them, as will my department, to move up doses from Q3 to Q2, from Q2 to Q1," Public Services and Procurement Minister Anita Anand said, referring to the quarters of the calendar year.

"We are pressing on all fronts to do whatever it takes to make sure that we have vaccines in this country as soon as possible," she said.

Maj.-Gen. Dany Fortin, the military commander leading vaccine logistics for the Public Health Agency of Canada, offered new numbers today on how many doses will be delivered in January and February — data he said should assure provinces that a steady supply of doses will be on hand for the foreseeable future.

Moderna ships its vaccine doses every three weeks. By the end of next week, 171,600 Moderna doses will be delivered nationwide, with another 170,000 doses expected the first week of February, Fortin said. Another 250,000 doses are expected by the end February.

The Pfizer product is delivered on a weekly basis. Fortin said 124,800 doses were delivered this week to 68 vaccine delivery sites across the country, with 208,650 more doses to be delivered to the provinces each week for the rest of this month.

Fortin said Canada is expected to receive 366,000 Pfizer doses per week in February — 60,000 more doses per week than originally planned. About 1.4 million doses of the Pfizer product are expected in February.

All told, Canada is expected to receive four million doses of the Pfizer product and two million Moderna shots by the end of March — enough to vaccinate three million people.

Some provinces have been holding back shots to ensure the second dose can be administered on the timeline recommended by the manufacturers — three weeks after the first shot for the Pfizer product, or one month for the Moderna vaccine. With guarantees that more shots will arrive each week, Fortin said provinces can have "a lot more line of sight, predictability."

"We're working very closely with the provinces and territories, of course, and we're providing as much visibility as possible. Our numbers are their numbers. They have visibility on what's coming in both January and February and can plan accordingly," he said.

U.S. president-elect Joe Biden announced Friday that, once he assumes office, he will direct health authorities to release nearly all available coronavirus vaccine doses to accelerate distribution and end the practice of holding back vaccination doses for second shots.

Fortin conceded Canada's vaccine supply will be rather "limited" for the first three months of this year but he expects to see a "a significant ramp-up" in April and beyond.

Fortin said recent Pfizer policy shifts — the company has said vaccines, once thawed, can be used for up to five days at basic refrigeration temperatures — will make it easier to deploy the temperature-sensitive vaccine to locations beyond distribution hubs.

"As our collective understanding of these new vaccines evolves and the manufacturer updates their product monographs and instructions, we are able to adapt how and where we distribute and administer vaccines to Canadians," he said.

"This means more options for that vaccine to be transported and administered to more sites and in smaller amounts, and that helps tremendously provinces in the administration of the vaccine."

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that at least 65 to 70 percent of a given population must be vaccinated to develop some degree of herd immunity and halt the spread of a disease. Once that threshold is reached, the COVID-19 virus will have fewer possible human hosts, driving down transmission rates.


John Paul Tasker

Senior writer

J.P. Tasker is a journalist in CBC's parliamentary bureau who reports for digital, radio and television. He is also a regular panellist on CBC News Network's Power & Politics. He covers the Conservative Party, Canada-U.S. relations, Crown-Indigenous affairs, climate change, health policy and the Senate. You can send story ideas and tips to J.P. at john.tasker@cbc.ca.

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