Canada’s COVID-19 vaccination drive is poised to shift into high gear this week as the federal public health agency prepares to take delivery of the largest number of doses since the launch of the immunization effort.
Nearly 1.2 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine are set to arrive this week, alongside 846,000 shots of the product developed by Moderna.
Figures from the Public Health Agency of Canada suggest the pace set over the next seven days will mark the start of a sustained delivery ramp-up, with Pfizer-BioNTech expected to continue providing weekly shipments of at least a million doses for the foreseeable future.
The accelerated pace of inoculation deliveries marks a dramatic reversal from earlier in the year, when production delays in Europe caused the pharmaceutical giants producing the coveted shots to pause a number of international shipments.
The torrent of vaccines flooding into the country over the next seven days is set to receive an additional boost in the weeks ahead due in part to a pending exchange between Canada and the United States.
Canada pre-purchased millions of doses of seven different vaccine types, and Health Canada has approved four so far for the various provincial and territorial rollouts. All the drugs are fully effective in preventing serious illness and death, though some may do more than others to stop any symptomatic illness at all (which is where the efficacy rates cited below come in).
- Also known as: Comirnaty
- Approved on: Dec. 9, 2020
- Efficacy rate: 95 per cent with both doses in patients 16 and older, and 100 per cent in 12- to 15-year-olds
- Traits: Must be stored at -70 C, requiring specialized ultracold freezers. It is a new type of mRNA-based vaccine that gives the body a sample of the virus’s DNA to teach immune systems how to fight it. Health Canada has authorized it for use in people as young as 12.
- Also known as: SpikeVax
- Approved on: Dec. 23, 2020
- Efficacy rate: 94 per cent with both doses in patients 18 and older, and 100 per cent in 12- to 17-year-olds
- Traits: Like Pfizer’s vaccine, this one is mRNA-based, but it can be stored at -20 C. It’s approved for use in Canada for ages 12 and up.
- Also known as: Vaxzevria
- Approved on: Feb. 26, 2021
- Efficacy rate: 62 per cent two weeks after the second dose
- Traits: This comes in two versions approved for Canadian use, the kind made in Europe and the same drug made by a different process in India (where it is called Covishield). The National Advisory Committee on Immunization’s latest guidance is that its okay for people 30 and older to get it if they can’t or don’t want to wait for an mRNA vaccine, but to guard against the risk of a rare blood-clotting disorder, all provinces have stopped giving first doses of AstraZeneca.
- Also known as: Janssen
- Approved on: March 5, 2021
- Efficacy rate: 66 per cent two weeks after the single dose
- Traits: Unlike the other vaccines, this one comes in a single injection. NACI says it should be offered to Canadians 30 and older, but Health Canada paused distribution of the drug for now as it investigates inspection concerns at a Maryland facility where the active ingredient was made.
How many vaccine doses do I get?
All vaccines except Johnson & Johnson’s require two doses, though even for double-dose drugs, research suggests the first shots may give fairly strong protection. This has led health agencies to focus on getting first shots to as many people as possible, then delaying boosters by up to four months. To see how many doses your province or territory has administered so far, check our vaccine tracker for the latest numbers.
Public Procurement Minister Anita Anand said on Friday that Canada was finalizing an agreement with its neighbour to the south that would see Ottawa receive 1.5 million doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca shot before the end of the month.
Delivery dates for the promised injections, however, are still up in the air.
Supplies are expected to increase further when two other vaccines cleared for use in Canada begin arriving en masse.
Shipments of both the AstraZeneca vaccine and the one-dose shot from Johnson & Johnson are widely expected to start arriving in Canada in April, though that timeline too has yet to be finalized.
Anand has said Canada is expected to receive a total of 9.5 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines by the end of the first quarter of this year.
She said this week’s delivery of Moderna vaccine will be staggered over two shipments over the next seven days.
“The increasing size of the shipments that Canada is receiving means that at times weekly allocations may be divided into multiple deliveries,” she said.
“...Rather than waiting until the end of the week to ship the entire order of 846,000 doses at once, it was decided to expedite the portion of the order that is ready so it arrives in Canada earlier.”
Deliveries from Moderna were previously scheduled to take place every three weeks, but earlier this month the company stepped up the pace by sending shipments every two weeks instead.
The Public Health Agency of Canada said Sunday that more than 670,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccines were administered last week alone. Government figures show more than 3.95 million doses have been administered across Canada as of Sunday, and 629,956 people have been fully vaccinated.
The agency said there have been no unexpected vaccine safety issues identified in Canada to date.
The AstraZeneca vaccine has been the subject of much international scrutiny and backlash after several people who received the shot developed blood clots.
A handful of countries suspended its use, but at least four reinstated it after a review from the European Medicines Agency found no elevated risk of clotting.
Canadian authorities, too, have reaffirmed their support for the shot.
“Based on the information to date, Health Canada confirms that the benefits of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine, in protecting Canadians from the severe outcomes of COVID-19, continue to outweigh any risks,” the agency said.
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