Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says he’s optimistic Canada will beat its September target to get COVID-19 shots to everyone in the country who wants them.
At a Wednesday news conference, Mr. Trudeau said the country’s eighth vaccine contract (announced last week with the Serum Institute of India) and the approval of more vaccines from Health Canada could help speed up the schedule for everyone to get their shots.
“We are very optimistic that we’re going to be able to accelerate some of these timelines,” Mr. Trudeau said.
The September goal to get all Canadians their shots relied only on deliveries from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna. Last week, Health Canada authorized the Oxford University-AstraZeneca shot and a comparable shot made by the Serum Institute. The Indian company is making the AstraZeneca vaccine through a different manufacturing process and the shot is sold under the name Covishield.
Canada hasn’t yet said when the 20 million shots it purchased directly from AstraZeneca will arrive, but they are expected only after March. To plug that gap, the government is buying two million doses from the Serum Institute, the first of which arrived on Wednesday.
India’s High Commissioner to Canada Ajay Bisaria said the federal government was able to secure that deal because Mr. Trudeau decided to call India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The two have had a frosty relationship at times and, in December, the Indian government took Canada to task after Mr. Trudeau commented on farmer protests in India. But Mr. Bisaria said the two countries are now on a “good footing.”
During the Feb. 10 call between the two leaders, Mr. Bisaria said Mr. Trudeau “commended Prime Minister Modi for the dialogue going on with India’s farm leaders and the fact that it was going on following democratic principles.” He noted that Mr. Modi immediately made public his willingness to help the federal government after that meeting.
“That was the critical tipping point because ... at the end of the day there are political choices made when you apportion the vaccine among partners,” Mr. Bisaria said about the call and Canada’s success in buying the shots.
Canada will also receive 1.9 million shots of the AstraZeneca vaccine through the COVAX fund, which was primarily set up for low- and middle-income countries.
On top of those deliveries, Mr. Trudeau added that even more shots could start arriving in Canada if the federal regulator authorizes the shots from Johnson & Johnson and Novavax.
Vaccine candidates from both of these companies are currently being reviewed by Health Canada. It’s expected that the Johnson & Johnson vaccine will be the next one approved.
The federal government has not released any updated information about how much the vaccines are costing Canada. On Wednesday, The Canadian Press reported that federal budget documents show $5.3-billion was approved in December for COVID-19 vaccines and treatments, including the purchase of doses as well as research and development.
Another change that has the potential to speed up Canada’s inoculations are new guidelines released Wednesday by the National Advisory Committee on Immunization, which said provinces and territories can wait up to four months to administer the second shots of the vaccines that require two doses.
If that change is implemented, the committee said it would mean 80 per cent of people 16 years and older could get their first shot by the end of June.
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