'It's safer than COVID': Canada's 1st vaccine recipients, health-care workers hope others follow suit
Health minister says 6 million more doses anticipated to arrive in 1st quarter of 2021
By now, many Canadians likely know that Lucky Aguila was among the first people in this country to be vaccinated against COVID-19 on Monday.
But the news came as a surprise to the 27-year-old nurse's parents. Aguila didn't tell them he was getting the vaccine; instead, they saw it happen on TV.
"I didn't want them to worry too much," Aguila told The Current's Matt Galloway. "But I know deep down they were supporting me, because [when] I got home they were cheering me [and] clapping when I opened the door."
He hopes his choice to get vaccinated will serve as an example to others, and inspire them to do the same.
"It's a big step to overcoming this pandemic, and we have to start somewhere."
On Monday morning around 11:30 a.m., Quebec City long-term care home resident Gisèle Lévesque, 89, became the first Canadian to receive Pfizer and BioNTech's COVID-19 vaccine.
Not too long after, Aguila and four other health-care workers in Ontario joined the select few Canadians chosen to receive the jab. They will later need to receive a second dose of the shot, as the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine requires two injections three weeks apart to develop immunity.
Aguila said he was nervous about getting the vaccine, especially with so much attention being paid to him while it was being administered. But he felt great to contribute to ending COVID-19.
"I've experienced COVID — the good, the bad, especially the bad," said Aguila, who works at the Rekai Centres at Sherbourne Place, a long-term care home in Toronto where several people have died from the virus.
"I don't want to see or lose anyone else due to [COVID-19]. That is why I decided to take the vaccine."
'Fine-tuning' vaccine rollout
The moment Aguila received the vaccine was also an "incredible" and "overwhelming" one for Tamara Dus, who administered the shot.
Dus, a registered nurse and the director of health services with the University Health Network, has been giving out vaccines for 25 years.
"But we've never been in a pandemic," she said. "I've never had the ability to be part of such a major potential change in how we all go back to normal life."
To her, administering the vaccine is a sign of hope — hope that there will once again be social gatherings in the future, and for an end to the long-term suffering many COVID-19 patients are experiencing.
I've never had the ability to be part of such a major potential change in how we all go back to normal life.- Tamara Dus, University Health Network
Dus said officials are still "fine-tuning" how best to roll the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine out to people. It's a significant undertaking; after being stored at –70 C, it must be thawed for a few hours before it can be mixed.
After that, Dus said it's only usable for about six hours. "It's a lot of co-ordination, a lot of scheduling," she said.
But she's confident in the vaccine, and has a message for anyone feeling hesitant about getting the shot when it becomes available: "It's safer than COVID."
Federal Health Minister Patty Hajdu agrees.
While she recognizes people have many questions about vaccination, "it is the only way out for us," she told Galloway.
"We've still got a ways to go, but … there was hope in that moment that I haven't felt in a very long time."
As for which Canadians are next in line to get the vaccine, Hajdu said that's up to the provincial and territorial governments. But their focus is on saving lives and stopping the spread — which means targeting those most likely to die from contracting the virus, and those most likely to come in contact with it, the minister said.
More vaccine expected in new year
Hajdu said the federal government is anticipating another six million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine will arrive by the end of the first quarter of 2021.
"The tap really turns on after that," she said, adding that she hopes other vaccines will be approved sometime in the first quarter as well, depending on how clinical trials and manufacturing go.
Hajdu was adamant that all Canadians will be able to get vaccinated for free if they choose to do so. But she denied claims that Canada is hoarding more vaccines than it needs.
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The federal government is expecting to receive at least 194 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines from different manufacturers, with options to purchase an additional 220 million. That would be enough to vaccinate all Canadians, and millions more.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Tuesday that the vaccine candidate from Massachusetts-based Moderna, which is in Health Canada's final stages of review, could be available in Canada by the end of the month.
"Quite frankly, our purchases were made on the advice of our vaccine taskforce, which … was comprised of a variety of different experts, including experts from the pharmaceutical industry, and really guided us in terms of placing our bets on seven promising candidates," Hajdu said.
"Some of those candidates may not evolve to be successful vaccines, and that was a risk that the government of Canada was willing to take to ensure that we would have access [for] any Canadian who wanted it."
Hajdu lauded the "rapid" and "collaborative" scientific work done to develop the vaccines. But she warned that "we aren't out of the woods yet."
"It sounds negative, but we do have to continue to practise the public health measures that are protecting us all in the interim, until we have a level of vaccination that [allows us to] be certain that [the] spread has really slowed."
Written by Kirsten Fenn, with files from CBC News. Produced by Joana Draghici, Ines Colabrese and Paul MacInnis.