Alberta has been forced to delay COVID-19 vaccination appointments in some regions and British Columbia exhausted almost all of its inventory this week, as the supply of vaccines begins to fall short of demand and the provinces’ capacities to deliver them.
Health officials have been warning for months the vaccine supply would be constrained, particularly in the early weeks and months of a complex mass vaccination program as Canada competes with jurisdictions around the world for a limited number of doses. That reality has prompted criticism from several premiers and the federal Conservatives, who have accused the governing Liberals of being too slow to secure vaccines.
B.C. was expecting additional supplies to arrive by late Wednesday. The province has used its Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines for residents and workers in long-term care facilities, and the Moderna vaccine, which is easier to ship, for remote Indigenous communities.
Health Minister Adrian Dix said the supply from Ottawa is ramping up as expected, and the province anticipates its entire adult population of 4.3 million will have the opportunity to be vaccinated by September – or earlier, if supplies increase as hoped.
“As of [Tuesday], we essentially delivered into people’s arms across B.C. all of the doses that we’ve received from the federal government up to now,” Mr. Dix told reporters.
The province is currently administering 25,000 doses a week. It expects to increase to almost 70,000 doses a week in February, then about 200,000 doses a week in the spring, and about 450,000 doses a week in the summer.
That is based on the federal government’s current estimates of supply, but does not include the additional 20 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine that Ottawa announced this week or the likelihood that other suppliers will be approved by Health Canada.
Mr. Dix said his government won’t join with other provinces in criticizing Ottawa over the distribution of the vaccine.
“They are working very hard to get more doses and as many doses as they can to Canadians quickly as they can. And we’re satisfied with that effort,” he said.
In Alberta, the government has been warning for days that it would soon run out of vaccines as its capacity to administer them expands. That has already happened in some places, with the province’s central health zone completely running out during the weekend, some sites in the north also running out in the past few days and the south zone reducing the number of available appointments, said Kerry Williamson, spokesman for Alberta Health Services.
Mr. Williamson said a shortage of the Moderna vaccine forced AHS to cancel the planned immunization of about 2,000 long-term care residents. Those will be rescheduled once new vaccines arrive, which is expected to happen on Friday.
Deena Hinshaw, Alberta’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, said the shortages will likely continue to be a problem at least in the short term.
“I would anticipate that certainly in the coming weeks, this will be an occurrence that’s relatively common as we work to get the doses that we have into the arms of Albertans as quickly as we can,” she said.
Premier Jason Kenney has been among several premiers to criticize the federal government’s vaccine procurement and has suggested the province may look at purchasing vaccines from other manufacturers to augment its supply. He said other countries, notably the United States, Britain and Israel, are far ahead of Canada both in terms of getting vaccines delivered and then administering them.
The Ontario government announced Wednesday it had administered more than 150,000 vaccine doses so far and could significantly scale up its vaccination program if more doses were available. Premier Doug Ford said Ontario now has the capacity to administer 20,000 shots a day and will scale up to 40,000 a day by February.
“We’re building the capacity. We’re emptying our freezers,” Mr. Ford said. “We’re getting ready for the next phase.” He said while Ottawa has reached a deal to receive an additional 20 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines this spring, those haven’t arrived yet. “The fact is we aren’t getting them,” Mr. Ford said.
The province on Wednesday revealed the second phase of its vaccination plan will start around the end of March and will include those over 80 years old and decreasing in five-year increments, as well as essential workers such as first responders, teachers and construction workers.
Juliet Guichon, who teaches at the University of Calgary’s medical school, said the public will be able to cope with what will feel like a long wait to be vaccinated as the provinces struggle with shortages and work through their priority lists, but only if they are getting frank and accurate information from their governments.
“People have shown that they are very resilient and their expectations can be managed with truthful information,” she said.
“And if the leaders say frankly and without any other agenda, ‘This is the situation and we’re doing our best, but you can expect a rush of vaccine distribution and a period where we must wait,’ people will accept that reality.”
She said finger pointing about who’s to blame for the constrained supply is unhelpful and could undermine public confidence in the vaccination system.
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