The European Union will have a much shorter interruption in deliveries of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine than Canada, despite commitments last week that countries would share equally in a temporary drop in doses.
On Friday, the federal government announced vaccine deliveries to Canada would be cut by half for a four-week period starting Jan. 25. The pharmaceutical giant said the slowdown was needed to allow the company to retool its Belgian plant in order to expand production.
Major-General Dany Fortin, who is leading Canada’s vaccine logistics, said the loss would be made up in the subsequent weeks, with the company still delivering all four million vaccine doses in the first quarter – as previously committed.
Maj-Gen. Fortin also said that every country that has purchased Pfizer vaccines will be “affected equally.” But after first laying out a three- to four-week slowdown in shipments to European countries, the company later said shipments would resume their original schedule to European Union members the week of Jan. 25.
The vaccine is delayed in Canada as COVID-19 infections continue to rise and as pressure on hospitals remains high in many parts of the country. Ontario reported 3,422 new infections on Sunday, along with 69 deaths. The numbers were based on nearly 60,200 tests.
Procurement Minister Anita Anand said in an e-mailed statement Sunday that Ottawa has reiterated to Pfizer the importance of Canada returning to its regular delivery schedule of vaccines, but no explanation was provided for the discrepancy.
“I understand and share the concerns of Canadians regarding the temporary delivery delay of Pfizer doses,” Ms. Anand said. “We are once again in touch with representatives from Pfizer to reiterate firmly the importance for Canada to return to our regular delivery schedule as soon as possible.”
Canada was previously expecting to receive 208,650 doses in the last week of January and about 367,000 doses each week in February. Instead, about 655,000 of those doses will be delivered later.
Based on publicly released delivery numbers, the drop will translate to approximately 327,000 people getting their two-shot vaccine later than expected.
The slowdown means Ontario will increase the interval between the two shots needed to maximize the protection provided by the vaccine, from the company-recommended 21 days to up to 42 days. On Friday, British Columbia said it was also evaluating whether it would need to increase the interval between the shots.
Ms. Anand said Pfizer assured the government it is deploying all efforts to return Canada to its original delivery schedule as soon as possible. “This is an evolving situation. As soon as updated information on the delivery of Pfizer doses for Canada is available, we will share it with Canadians,” she said.
Europe had initially been advised it would face a similar delay as Canada. Germany’s Health Ministry had said Friday that Pfizer informed the European Commission it would not be able to fulfill all of its promised deliveries in the next three to four weeks. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said she “immediately called the CEO of Pfizer.”
On Friday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said at his press conference that the setback was “out of our hands” and that’s why Canada has contracts with several vaccine developers.
Christina Antoniou, a spokesperson for Pfizer, said in an e-mailed statement Sunday that because of the improvements the company is undertaking to scale up capacity, vaccine shipments will be temporarily affected in late January and early February, but it will allow for a significant increase in late February and March.
“The principle of equity is used when considering allocation of doses worldwide and we expect to have more information in the coming days,” Ms. Antoniou said.
Conservative health critic Michelle Rempel Garner said in an e-mailed statement that it is up to the Prime Minister to explain to Canadians why they will not be able to get vaccinated for months after people in other countries, such as the United States.
“It’s up to him to explain why, based on Friday’s news about vaccine delivery delays, we might be looking at many more months of lockdown – with the lost jobs, time with families, and mental health challenges that accompany them – while vaccines are being delivered to countries like the United States. It’s also up to him to find better path forward; if his Plan A has failed, what’s Plan B?” asked Ms. Rempel Garner.
With a report from the Associated Press
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