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A health care worker prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a clinic in Toronto on Jan. 7, 2021.Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press

The federal government is buying more COVID-19 vaccines from Pfizer-BioNTech to offset a significant drop in deliveries from Moderna, after the company slashed Canada’s next delivery in half.

The two vaccines make up the backbone of Canada’s vaccine supply, but not a single delivery of Moderna has arrived in full and on time since March 11, whereas deliveries from Pfizer have arrived reliably each week since the end of February. Despite the delivery disruptions, Canada is expecting to receive at least 48 million doses of vaccines requiring two shots by the end of June.

On Friday, Moderna announced it will cut deliveries from its European supply chain to countries outside of the European Union and Switzerland. That means Canada, which was originally supposed to receive 1.2 million doses next week, will only get 650,000 doses in a delivery that is also delayed until the end of April. Between April and June, the country will be short up to two million doses from Moderna.

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After playing down concerns about the inconsistent supply from Moderna earlier this week, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced Friday that his government is buying an extra eight million doses from Pfizer, which will more than make up for the cut to Moderna’s shipments.

“We have been extremely well served by Pfizer,” Mr. Trudeau said in response to a question about whether he trusts Moderna’s ability to deliver.

In March, the European Union introduced enhanced export controls that allow member countries to stop vaccine exports if the export would prevent the company from meeting its contractual commitments with the EU. At the time, the federal government said the new rules wouldn’t affect deliveries to Canada.

“Moderna’s shipment delays are unrelated to the EU mechanism,” Youmy Han, a spokesperson for International Trade Minister Mary Ng, said Friday.

NDP MP Don Davies said he’s skeptical that is the case given that the European Union and Switzerland (where the vaccine is made) are the two jurisdictions unaffected by supply cuts. Shipments to Britain are also being cut, Moderna said.

“If EU countries are getting Moderna and we’re not, then I don’t think you have to be an international trade lawyer to put two and two together,” Mr. Davies said. “The bottom line is that Canada is not getting Moderna vaccines and other countries are – and that speaks to a failure by the Trudeau government, whatever the cause.”

“Human and material resources have factored into this volatility,” Patricia Gauthier, manager of Moderna’s Canadian operations, said in a statement Friday. “The trajectory of vaccine manufacturing ramp-up is not linear, and despite best efforts, there is a shortfall in previously estimated doses from the European supply chain.”

Canada’s vaccination campaign is playing out amid a surging third wave that is hitting some regions of the country harder than others. In Ontario, hospitals in the Toronto and Hamilton areas are facing strained capacity as they prepare field hospitals, mobile backup units and tents for emergency-department overflow.

In that context, the Canadian Medical Association said Friday the federal government should consider changing its per-capita allocation of vaccines to instead distribute doses based on urgent need.

Mr. Trudeau was non-committal when asked about the proposal on Friday, saying the current system of vaccine distribution was equitable.

“We set up a fair vaccine distribution formula based on discussions with the provinces. To change that formula, the provinces would need to agree,” the Prime Minister said. “I can say that we’ve had some preliminary discussions. It’s certainly a priority for some provinces, to receive more.”

Procurement Minister Anita Anand said this week that the government budgeted about $8-billion for its vaccine purchases. She has previously said Canada paid competitive rates for its vaccines, but documents released on Friday suggest Canada paid much more than other countries for the Oxford-AstraZeneca shot.

An e-mail released to the House of Commons health committee shows that Canada paid $8.18 per dose of AstraZeneca in its contract for 20 million shots, which was announced on Sept. 25. That’s well over the $3.75 to $5 per dose that The New York Times said other countries were paying for the shot. The e-mail also shows delivery of the shots was only supposed to start late in the second quarter of the year.

Ms. Anand’s office declined to comment when asked for an explanation from The Globe. At the health committee on Friday, deputy minister of procurement Bill Matthews told MPs he could not comment on the specific pricing because of confidentiality clauses in the contracts, but suggested the fact that the AstraZeneca shot is not made in Canada was a factor.

“The location of manufacturing is an important consideration in terms of the price discussions across the board, so I’m not commenting specifically on AstraZeneca,” Mr. Matthews said in response to questions from Conservative MP Michelle Rempel Garner.

“It’s seriously concerning that despite having paid a higher price for these vaccines than several other countries, Canadians are not getting these vaccines faster,” Ms. Rempel Garner said in a statement.

Health Canada approved the AstraZeneca vaccine in February, but the first delivery through Canada’s contract with the company is only supposed to arrive in June.

To cover the gap, Canada struck three other side deals to buy the vaccine and have it delivered earlier.

With a report from Reuters

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