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Canada is set to receive five million more doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine earlier than expected this spring, adding to hopes the country will speed up a sluggish vaccine rollout that has failed to prevent a surging third wave of COVID-19 and potential additional lockdowns.
The country is now expecting to receive at least 44 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines by the end of June, up from the 36.5 million projected earlier. The accelerated timeline was welcomed by the provinces, but the Ontario government said it won’t solve the short-term vaccine supply concerns that are playing out against a backdrop of uncontrolled growth in cases and warnings of more economic shutdowns.
Still, at a press conference in Ottawa on Tuesday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau celebrated his government surpassing its target of getting six million shots into Canada by the end of March. By this weekend, Canada will receive a total of 9.5 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines, he said. There’s no date yet for when 1.5 million of those shots can be used, however, as they are still undergoing a Health Canada review.
Canada is “very well on the way to having more than enough to ensure that every Canadian who wishes to be vaccinated can be fully vaccinated by the end of the summer,” Procurement Minister Anita Anand said Tuesday.
In Canada, all eligible adults will be able to get their first shot sometime in June. In the United States, all eligible adults will be able to get theirs by May 1.
The federal government has bought more than enough vaccines for everyone eligible to get their jabs, but it signed contracts with the vaccine manufacturers that allowed for the bulk of those deliveries to come later in 2021. Since Health Canada approved the vaccines, the federal government has been trying to move up deliveries, and also bought new shots that could be delivered sooner.
Mr. Trudeau said the country is “entering the final stretch of this crisis,” but his hopeful outlook came with a warning that Canada is first in for more tough months ahead.
“Even if the end of the pandemic is in sight, the variants means the situation is even more serious,” the Prime Minister said. “We just need to stay strong a little longer. More and more vaccine doses are coming every week, so there’s reason to be hopeful.”
Data released by Ontario’s COVID-19 Science Table shows the variants of concern now dominate case counts and are more serious on every measure, with a 62 per cent higher risk of hospitalization, a 114 per cent higher risk of intensive-care admission, and a 40 per cent higher risk of death. Modelling released by the Public Health Agency of Canada on Friday showed the third wave will outpace the second wave unless governments impose new restrictions.
The mRNA shots from Pfizer and Moderna make up the backbone of Canada’s vaccination campaign, with the country expecting to receive a combined 37.6 million doses from the two companies by the end of June. Vaccines from Oxford-AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson were approved by Health Canada on Feb. 26 and March 5, respectively, but the federal government is only now starting to pin down deliveries from those contracts.
On Tuesday, Ms. Anand also announced for the first time that a delivery from Johnson & Johnson is expected at the end of April, but couldn’t yet say how many doses it will include. Canada is buying 10 million doses of the company’s single-shot vaccine.
Ms. Anand said that one million doses of the 20 million AstraZeneca shots, purchased through a contract signed last year, will arrive in June. The government is covering that months-long gap between approval and delivery of the shots through new deals that it struck this year for two million shots from the Serum Institute of India and by drawing on AstraZeneca shots through the COVAX initiative.
It also received a loan of 1.5 million AstraZeneca shots from the U.S., which will be counted against the contract for 20 million shots. Those U.S. shots arrived in Canada on Tuesday – but because they were made in a manufacturing plant that wasn’t covered by the original Health Canada authorization, they are still subject to regulatory review, and can’t yet be administered.
Last week, the B.C. government said the limited vaccine supply was restricting the rollout in that province and that delivery timelines for AstraZeneca were still outstanding. B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix also said deliveries from Moderna have been “less consistent” compared with those from Pfizer. On Tuesday, Ontario Premier Doug Ford said the provinces are still waiting for a clear delivery schedule for the AstraZeneca doses, adding that was on top of the uncertainty around Moderna’s delivery schedule, which he said has changed five times.
The latest announcements from Ottawa did not change Ontario’s timeline to get all eligible people their first shots by June 20. Mr. Ford defended his province’s vaccine plan, which has been criticized by opposition critics as slow and ineffective in reaching the most vulnerable, and for holding back available vaccine doses.
“We still don’t have the steady and reliable supply of mass vaccines that we need from the federal government. And this ongoing instability is the biggest threat to the success of our vaccination plan,” Mr. Ford said Tuesday, adding that some Ontario pharmacies have had to stop vaccinating because “they’re basically out of supply.”
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