Nearly 945K vaccine doses arriving this week, including first from AstraZeneca: Anand
OTTAWA -- The first tranche of AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines is on its way to Canada and is scheduled to arrive tomorrow, as part of the 944,600 vaccine doses arriving this week, Procurement Minister Anita Anand said Tuesday.
A total of 500,000 AstraZeneca shots are in transit to Canada from the Serum Institute of India and Verity Pharmaceuticals, as part of a deal for two million doses. As well, the weekly delivery of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine contains 444,600 doses.
“This week, we are on track to see approximately 945,000 doses of vaccines arriving in Canada,” said Anand. “Thus, almost a million doses will be delivered into this country this week alone, and next week we are set to receive more than 900,000 doses of vaccines,” she said.
With the addition of the AstraZeneca vaccine to Canada’s list of authorized vaccines, the federal government has said that shipment sizes are set to continue to increase. This aligns with the plans to begin immunizing more people, and could lead to an acceleration of the timeline of having at least 14.5 million Canadians fully vaccinated by the end of June.
“As our government ramps up the delivery of vaccines to provinces this week, we know that more Canadians will be offered the opportunity to receive their vaccine, and we encourage everyone who's offered this opportunity to accept,” said Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc, adding that all who are vaccinated will need to continue to follow their local public health guidance.
Factoring in the largest allotments yet going to provinces, and the reality that 300,000 of the first shipment AstraZeneca shots have an early April expiry date, the pressure is on premiers to show that they can effectively administer more doses in a shorter timeframe than they have had to since the first shots landed in Canada in December.
“All doses have expiry dates… it is important to recognize that we have high demand for vaccine in this country. We have provinces and territories that have repeatedly told the federal government that they want vaccines as soon as possible, and they're ready to administer vaccines as soon as possible,” Anand said.
In an interview on CTV News Channel’s Power Play Tuesday, Anand said there will be “sufficient time” to get these doses administered, though the federally-contracted distribution system contracted to FedEx Canada and Innomar Strategies.
WHO WILL GET ASTRAZENECA?
Facing questions about who will be given the newly-approved AstraZeneca doses, federal officials said Tuesday that it’s a decision that will be up to each province and territory.
This comes after Canada's National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) issued new guidance on Monday not recommending the use of its COVID-19 vaccine in individuals aged 65 years and older, due to “the insufficiency of evidence of efficacy in this age group at this time.”
Health Canada authorized the vaccine for use in people ages 18 and up, and continues to stress that there are no safety concerns after seniors receiving this vaccine as it like the other two approved vaccines has been shown to considerably reduce serious COVID-19 illness resulting in hospitalization or death.
On Tuesday, Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam said that NACI’s guidance was based on “the data they have at hand,” and that she expects it to be updated.
“Watch this space, as they see more and more of that real world data accumulating, that will be adjusted,” Tam said.
She was asked if instead of using this vaccine to help inoculate seniors, who are a focus in this current phase of immunizations, it should go to essential workers or racialized Canadians who NACI has highlighted as among those who should be next in line.
“There's an opportunity, potentially, for this group of people who wouldn't have got the vaccine until a couple of months later, to have the opportunity to get it… But it is up to the provinces and territories to implement how they're going to use the AstraZeneca vaccine,” she said, adding it could also be given to younger people or be used to continue to vaccinate health-care workers.
Raising concerns about whether NACI’s guidance will be heeded, Conservative health critic Michelle Rempel Garner said that the federal government should provide clear direction about the use of AstraZeneca.
“The potential impacts of following one path over another need to be answered today,” she said. “Because of this conflicting advice, provinces now have to make decisions about who to deliver this vaccine to, and under what circumstances. Canadian seniors will have questions about if this vaccine is effective, and why Canada is choosing to give it to them when some government experts have advised against it.”
Nova Scotia Premier Iain Rankin said he was briefed Tuesday on the allotment of AstraZeneca doses coming his provinces way out of this first shipment—around 13,000 shots he said—but still needs time to figure out who these vaccines would go to.
“We'll have to see how we can find a cohort that makes the most sense to deliver the vaccine and an age group that's less than 65,” he said. “We don't want to interfere with the effectiveness and the efficiency by which we are delivering those vaccines out to first of all the 48,000 Nova Scotians that are over the age of 80… that need the vaccine the most.”
“We know that there's an expiry date on those vaccines so we don't anticipate waiting very long to make our decision,” Rankin said.
Responding to this, Anand said that should any province decide to not take a certain shipment, “we will find other takers.”
NEW DETAILS ON COMING SHIPMENTS
Next week’s shipments will come from Pfizer and Moderna, as those firms work to meet their commitment to ship a combined total of six million doses by the end of March.
“We're expecting to receive around 23 million doses of Pfizer BioNTech and Moderna between April and June,” said Maj.-Gen. Dany Fortin on Tuesday.
The balance of 1.5 million AstraZeneca doses coming to Canada through the Serum Institute will come over April and May. This will overlap with the beginning of deliveries of the 20 million AstraZeneca doses Canada has secured through an agreement with AstraZeneca for shots developed in partnership with Oxford University and coming from the U.S. between April and September. Health Canada’s approval authorized shots to come from both manufacturers.
While Pfizer’s shipments will continue to come to Canada weekly, Moderna will be moving from delivering doses every three weeks to sending new shipments every two weeks.
Fortin said that in the first two weeks of April, Pfizer is expected to send around 769,000 doses per week.
In light of the latest figures being confirmed, the federal government is in talks with the provinces and territories about the per capita allocations of these shipments.
“We will continue to lead the planning effort to ensure that the processes for delivering, storage, handling, and immunization clinics and the provinces and territories can keep pace with increasing shipment sizes of the authorized COVID-19 vaccines,” Fortin said.