Building public trust around the safety and effectiveness of vaccines will be crucial to the fight against the coronavirus pandemic, top officials say, as one of the leading companies says it will be able to ship initial doses within hours of Health Canada’s approval.
Rick Hillier, who chairs Ontario’s COVID-19 vaccination task force, said it will be up to public officials and Health Canada to explain why vaccines are safe, how they’re going to be administered and what Canadians can expect from the mass inoculation. Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam said this weekend that all vaccines approved for use in Canada will be required to meet “the highest standards of quality, safety and effectiveness” set by Health Canada’s regulatory review.
“Public trust is the centre of gravity for a successful vaccination program in Ontario,” Mr. Hillier, the former chief of defence staff, said in an interview with The Globe and Mail.
“At one end of the bell curve, there is a group of people … who are all ready for a vaccine and they want to get back to a normal life.
“On the other end of that bell curve … there’s a bunch of people who are never going to take the vaccine I’m sure no matter what they learn about it.”
And in the middle, he said, are a majority of Canadians “who are a little bit uncertain” and will want to hear more from Health Canada and medical professionals about the vaccination process.
“That group of people who are a little bit uncertain, we want to be able to let them make their own decisions – intelligent, well-informed decisions – about the vaccine. And if they do that, then we believe that the vast majority of them will decide to get the vaccine.”
Ontario on Sunday reported a record-high 1,924 COVID-19 cases, and 15 deaths, while Quebec surpassed 2,000 cases on the weekend. Alberta also posted a record 1,879 new cases on Saturday.
Ottawa and the provinces are currently finalizing details related to vaccine distribution. It will be logistically challenging owing to the fact the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, which is likely to be the first one approved in Canada, must be stored at ultracold temperatures of minus 70 C.
Doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine will be ready to ship within hours of Health Canada’s approval, said an industry executive who points to this week’s rollout in Britain as an example of what Canadians can expect.
Britain has already approved the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine and the first vaccinations are scheduled for Tuesday.
Sean Marett, BioNTech’s chief business and chief commercial officer, said doses have been produced and reserved for Canada and are ready to ship once Health Canada gives its approval.
“If I use the U.K. as an example, we got approval at 1 a.m. in the morning. We approved release of the vaccine and shipped it within 24 hours,” he said in an interview broadcast Sunday on CBC’s Rosemary Barton Live.
“So we’re working directly with Health Canada, together with our colleagues at Pfizer in Canada, to bring the approval to Canada as quickly as we can. And certainly from the discussions that we’ve had, Canada is in a good position to approve the vaccine shortly.”
The first vaccinations in Britain are scheduled to occur less than a week after the government regulator approved the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine.
However, the military general leading the logistics of Canada’s vaccine rollout says he is planning for the first Canadian vaccines to be distributed in early January. He also said he expects the supply of vaccines to arrive in a steady stream, rather than all at once.
In an interview with CTV’s Question Period, Major-General Dany Fortin said each province currently has one designated location to receive the cold-storage Pfizer vaccine and that other locations will be added over time for distribution.
“As the vaccine comes in, they will trickle in,” he said. “There will be large amounts. But what we expect to see in January is constant flow of vaccines that come in. Pfizer and others as well as they become available.”
According to a government survey called Canada’s COVID-19 Snapshot Monitoring Study (COSMO), 61 per cent of respondents in August, 2020, were willing to get an effective recommended COVID-19 vaccine – a decrease from 71 per cent back in April. While willingness to get an effective recommended vaccine has decreased among all age groups surveyed, older Canadian respondents (aged 55 years of age and older) are significantly more willing to get immunized than younger Canadian respondents, the study said.
Sorting out plans for the rollout of vaccines will be a key topic on the agenda this Thursday, when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the premiers meet for a first ministers’ meeting. However, the premiers have also made clear that they intend to push their request for Ottawa to significantly increase annual health transfers.
Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc told CBC News in an interview that aired Sunday that the government wants to start discussions on health transfers, while keeping the focus on COVID-19.
“We’re more than happy to have a conversation around the long-term sustainability of public health care in Canada,” he said. “We’ve also said to premiers that Canadians properly expect their governments to be focused on the very urgent real needs of the pandemic.”
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