Canada is well-positioned to approve Pfizer and BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine soon — and it could be delivered to the country very quickly after that, a BioNTech executive says.
“If I use the U.K. as an example, we got approval at 1:00 am in the morning. We approved [the] release of the vaccine and shipped it within 24 hours,” said Sean Marett, the chief business and chief commercial officer of Germany’s BioNTech, which partnered with the U.S.-based Pfizer to develop one of the world’s most promising COVID-19 vaccine candidates.
“Certainly from the discussions that we’ve had, Canada is in a good position to approve the vaccine shortly,” Marett told CBC Chief Political Correspondent Rosemary Barton on Sunday.
The Pfizer/BioNTech product — which was recently greenlit in the U.K. for emergency use — could receive approval from Health Canada as soon as this coming week. Health regulators are currently reviewing three other vaccines produced by Moderna, AstraZeneca and Janssen.
“Upon approval, we then release the vaccine and then it is shipped. We’ve already produced the vaccine and reserved doses for Canada,” Marett said on Rosemary Barton Live.
Regulatory approval is a key step before the finer details of the federal government’s rollout plan can be set in motion.
“We are negotiating for more precise delivery dates pending Health Canada approval,” Procurement Minister Anita Anand told CBC’s Vassy Kapelos earlier this week. “It’s for that reason that we’re putting the logistics systems in place so that there is no time lost between approval and then distribution to the provinces and territories.”
Rollout the ‘biological equivalent of a moon landing’
Marett called the distribution plan for the vaccine the “biological equivalent of a moon landing.”
“You’ve got to get everything exactly right, and that, of course, includes timings,” Marett said, when asked about exact delivery dates. “These things tend to … move around [for] a few days. But so far, from our experience with one country, the United Kingdom, we’ve seen things move pretty smoothly.”
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On Friday, Anand announced a contract with FedEx Express Canada to support the shipment of most vaccines across the country.
But the Pfizer/BioNTech candidate will be delivered by the pharmaceutical company directly because the product needs to be kept at approximately -70 C to remain stable. Ottawa says it’s already secured enough freezers to store up to 33.5 million units of the vaccine.
Marett said transporting and housing products in sub-zero temperatures is a process that’s been “well mapped out.”
“Together with Pfizer, we’ve designed a storage box … in which the vaccine arrives. You can use that as a -70 freezer. You can open the box twice a day and take vaccine out as long as you re-ice it for up to 15 days,” he explained.
Canada has signed a deal with Pfizer and BioNTech to pre-order 20 million doses of the vaccine, with an option to buy 56 million more in the months ahead. Pfizer says the shots are 95 per cent effective based on Phase 3 clinical trial results.
Marett said his company was “completely stunned” by those findings, considering the vaccine was developed in a matter of months as opposed to years.
“Ninety-five per cent efficacy, as defined by do you get [COVID-19] symptoms or not … is, in our view, a startling result,” he said.
PM to discuss rollout with premiers Thursday
Public health officials say that if all goes well, six million doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna vaccines are slated to arrive in Canada within the first three months of 2021. Both vaccines must be administered twice, meaning three million Canadians from several priority groups will be among the first to get a jab.
Some provincial leaders, however, have conflicting views over whether vaccines should be doled out on a per-capita basis or whether they’ll be disseminated based on the coronavirus caseload in a given region.
Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Andrew Furey told Barton last week that the safest way to distribute vaccines would be based on population, once the country’s most vulnerable are inoculated. Manitoba’s Brian Pallister said Thursday that a per-capita plan could hurt his hard-hit province.
“Many provinces have advocated for a per-capita sharing of the vaccines,” federal Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc said in a separate interview on Sunday. “But [that] will be finalized, we hope, in the conversations that the prime minister will have with premiers this coming week.”
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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will meet with premiers on Thursday to discuss Canada’s shared efforts to fight the COVID-19 pandemic and co-ordinate the country’s inoculation response.
Maj.-Gen. Dany Fortin, the former NATO commander now leading vaccine logistics and operations for the Public Health Agency of Canada, said Friday that every province has now identified specific sites where shots will be received.
On Monday, dry runs are expected to be carried out in each province to ensure that those involved in the rollout process are prepared to handle the “very unique requirements” of an ultra-cold vaccine, Fortin said.
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