While Prime Minister Justin Trudeau acknowledged today that Christmas won’t be the same this year, with wide swaths of the country under COVID-related lockdowns, he said there’s reason for optimism in 2021 now that hundreds of thousands of vaccine doses are expected to arrive early in the new year.
Speaking to reporters outside Rideau Cottage in Ottawa, Trudeau said the government got word today that Pfizer will be shipping 125,000 vaccine doses per week in January 2021 for a total of 500,000 shots — primarily destined for the arms of front line health care workers and long-term care home residents. Pfizer has committed already to delivering 249,000 doses to Canada in December.
All told, roughly 375,000 Canadians are expected to be vaccinated with the two-dose Pfizer shot by the end of January.
Canada is also anticipating the delivery this month of 168,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine, enough for about 84,000 people. The Moderna product is still waiting on Health Canada’s regulatory approval.
“This is the largest immunization campaign our country has ever seen, and I know we have the right plan and the expertise we need,” Trudeau said. “But remember, a vaccine in a week or in a month won’t help you if you get COVID-19 today.”
WATCH: Prime Minister Trudeau offers update on vaccine delivery
Trudeau urged Canadians to continue to follow public health guidelines over the holidays. While the vaccine news is promising, he said, Canadians should resist complacency.
“Our fight against this virus is not over, even as we’re preparing to say goodbye — and good riddance — to 2020. It may be the holiday season, but we have to be more careful than ever,” Trudeau said.
Asked about the prospect of getting even more Pfizer doses, Public Services and Procurement Minister Anita Anand said today she’s in constant communication with the company to discuss the possibility of “accelerated timelines” and to “ensure Canada has the earliest possible access to Pfizer doses.”
Canada is still on track to take delivery of 4 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine in the first three months of 2021, she said.
Dr. Scott Gottlieb, the former the head of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and a current Pfizer board member, said this week that because the U.S. passed on ordering 100 million more doses of the vaccine, the company’s Kalamazoo, Mich., plant could send that product to other countries in the second quarter of 2021.
Watch: Trudeau questioned about vaccine deliveries, impact on Christmas.:
Canada’s chief public health officer, Dr. Theresa Tam, said today’s announcement that Canada will receive a specific number of Pfizer doses in January may give the provinces leeway to accelerate their vaccination campaigns.
While all provinces have started delivering shots, most have stockpiled the second dose of the two-dose regime to ensure they have enough supply on hand.
If a steady supply of vaccines is expected, Tam said, some provinces may opt to just vaccinate as many people as possible without keeping a reserve.
“It’s great to hear this schedule,” Tam said. “If you know there’s 125,000 coming per week in January, that makes planning for that second dose much easier in terms of not necessarily having to hold back the initial ones … so I think those details are to be worked out on the ground.”
Pfizer has stipulated that the second shot should be administered 21 days after the first to ensure the 94 per cent effectiveness rate documented in the clinical trials
U.S. vaccination campaign pulling ahead of Canada
The U.S. is expected to vaccinate many more people than Canada in the coming weeks.
Gen. Gustave Perna is the military general leading Operation Warp Speed, the U.S. mission to develop and distribute a vaccine. He said Pfizer already has shipped 2.9 million doses to the United States, with millions more to follow by month’s end.
Some U.S. governors, however, are reporting that their allocations of the vaccine are less than what they expected.
The U.S. also has secured 100 million doses of the promising Moderna product for the first three months of 2021 alone. Canada expects to receive about 2 million Moderna doses between January and March.
Operation Warp Speed largely bankrolled the vaccine’s development, the clinical trial process and the large-scale manufacturing operations, spending $4.1 billion so far to support Moderna.
Dr. Moncef Slaoui, the chief science adviser to the U.S. vaccine operation, has said every American who wants a vaccine will get one by June.
The Public Health Agency of Canada told CBC News Tuesday that it expects to have enough vaccine doses on hand to vaccinate every Canadian by the end of September, 2021.
Asked what he would do to close the Canada-U.S. vaccine gap, Trudeau said the federal government has secured one of the broadest portfolios of promising vaccine candidates in the world.
“The Americans have a health care system that will have challenges and will have successes. We have our own process. We’re focused on our own process to make sure that as many Canadians as possible get vaccinated, as quickly as possible, with vaccines that are safe and effective and approved by Health Canada,” he said.
Watch: Trudeau is asked why many Canadians aren’t listening to pandemic messaging.:
Health Canada is currently reviewing other vaccines from companies like AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson’s pharmaceutical division, Janssen.
In total, Canada has ordered roughly 418 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines from seven different companies — an insurance policy against the risk that some of the vaccines in development prove to be ineffective.
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