PM says Canada will have enough COVID-19 vaccines for a 'one-dose summer'
OTTAWA -- Prime Minister Justin Trudeau confirmed Tuesday that there will be enough COVID-19 vaccines coming into the country to offer every eligible and willing Canadian their first shot by this summer, and enough doses for everyone to be fully vaccinated “by September.”
“A one-dose summer sets us up for a two-dose fall, when we’ll be able to talk about going back to school, back to work, and back to more normality,” said the prime minister.
Though, questions remain about when the federal government will be issuing clear guidance around what degree of risk certain activities pose to vaccinated people, and what Canadians can, and can’t do safely after their first and second COVID-19 shots.
Touting Canada’s ranking among G20 countries when it comes to daily vaccination rates—while the overall percentage of the population that is fully vaccinated remains low—Trudeau said that while the country is not finished fighting COVID-19, nearly 50 per cent of eligible adults have received at least one shot.
“There is hope,” Trudeau said, for a “slightly better summer,” but added that restrictions need to stay in place until at least 75 per cent of the population has at least their first shot and community transmission is better controlled through testing, tracing, and tamping down on spread.
“We can’t ease public health restrictions until cases are way down. We all want to have a summer where we can see our loved ones and invite friends over for BBQs. We can have that summer,” said the prime minister. “That’s what I’m excited about.”
According to Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam, case counts are “slowly declining” nationally but the third wave is still severe in several provinces.
WHAT CAN YOU DO THIS SUMMER?
While first doses of the three two-shot COVID-19 vaccines in use in Canada offer some degree of efficacy, it isn’t enough that Canadians should be letting their guards down while they wait to receive their second doses.
With cases still high, even with more Canadians getting vaccinated, the federal government is facing ongoing calls to more concretely outline what degree of easing of restrictions will be possible over the summer with the vast majority of Canadians set to only be half vaccinated.
Health Minister Patty Hajdu has previously said guidance similar to the extensive advice the United States has offered its citizens was coming “shortly”, a promise reiterated by Procurement Minister Anita Anand on CTV News Channel’s Power Play on Tuesday.
“We are working on those guidelines now. I know that the Minister of Health, Patty Hajdu, is deeply engaged on this issue, and we will be releasing guidelines for Canadians in the near future,” she said.
For example, fully vaccinated Americans have been told they no longer need to wear masks outdoors unless in a large crowd of people, can resume domestic travel without taking COVID-19 tests, no longer need to self-isolate after arriving back from an international destination, and can visit with other fully vaccinated people indoors without masks or physical distancing.
On Tuesday, Trudeau said changing the guidance will depend on case counts dropping enough and vaccination rates rising enough to not spawn a fourth wave when public health precautions are eased, but didn’t offer an explanation as to why even discussing what might be possible isn’t concretely happening yet.
Tam did offer some potential examples, suggesting that more outdoor activity with people in your household or part of a small bubble may be possible, but it’ll depend on local pandemic realities.
“Everybody is frustrated with lockdowns, I think that’s a very normal thing. Everyone is frustrated and wants to know when we can start seeing our family again. Everyone wants to know when we can start going out and enjoying the connections that make our lives so important,” said NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh during a press conference on Tuesday ahead of Trudeau’s address.
“It really heightens the responsibility of governments, particularly the federal government to provide a clear plan, let people know what do we need to do to get back to a place where we're safe again. How many people need to get vaccinated? How do we get there? The more transparency, the more clarity in that plan, the more it helps people who are frustrated.”
VACCINE SUPPLY LATEST
While supply challenges remain—currently with the AstraZeneca vaccine—that are prompting another course change in the delivery strategy in some regions, Canada is expecting to receive enough doses from other authorized providers for everyone to have had their first shot by the end of June.
As of last week, Anand’s office confirmed that by the end of June Canada is expecting to have cumulatively received between 48 and 50 million doses of Health Canada-authorized vaccines, and more than 100 million doses by the end of September.
The majority of those doses are from mRNA vaccine producers Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna, with enough doses secured of both to vaccinate the entire population with these two-dose vaccines.
In the first quarter of 2021 Canada received a total of 9.5 million COVID-19 vaccine doses from Pfizer, Moderna, and AstraZeneca.
In the second quarter, which ends in June, Canada is expecting to receive a total of 24.2 million doses from Pfizer, between 10.3 and 12.3 million doses of Moderna, and the government had aimed to see up to 4.4 million doses of AstraZeneca arrive.
In terms of the AstraZeneca commitment, it is a bit in limbo at the moment, with coming deliveries estimated at approximately 1.6 million doses from various contracts before the end of June but those shipments are not yet nailed down.
Uncertainty remains over whether Health Canada will clear the use of the 300,000 Johnson & Johnson single-dose COVID-19 vaccines that have arrived but are undergoing additional safety reviews, or what will happen with future deliveries.
Asking about the prime minister’s comments, Conservative MP and health critic Michelle Rempel Garner questioned Hajdu in the House of Commons about when exactly Canadians can expect to receive their second dose. Hajdu did not offer a specific date, rather pointed to the fact that as of Tuesday, 20 million doses have been delivered across Canada.
Rempel Garner is now calling for an emergency meeting of the House Health Committee to discuss the current vaccination timeline, the possibility of Canada switching to mixed-dose vaccination strategy, the lacking vaccination guidance, and plans for vaccination passports.
MIXING AND MATCHING SHOTS?
On Tuesday, federal officials faced a series of questions over whether Canada should begin pivoting away from using AstraZeneca in Canada’s vaccine rollout given the suggestion from the National Advisory Committee on Immunization that the mRNA vaccines are “preferred.”
But also, the questions were prompted by Alberta’s decision to stop offering first doses of the vaccine given the uncertainty about future supply, a move Ontario also made hours later citing the risks of blood clotting as a key factor in its decision.
In response, both Trudeau and Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc said that the government will continue to try to negotiate with suppliers for more doses to arrive soon, it’ll be up to the provinces and territories to determine their own vaccine rollout plans.
“It would be irresponsible for Canada not to pursue,” future AstraZeneca deliveries, said LeBlanc.
As well, conversations are heating up about the prospect of mixing vaccines—offering those who have had a single dose of a viral vector vaccine like AstraZeneca a second shot of an mRNA vaccine.
Tam said that while everyone who received an AstraZeneca vaccine when it was offered to them “did the right thing,” and until the science says otherwise, second shots of the same vaccine will be the focus.
“We will make sure that those who got the AstraZeneca vaccine first dose can be provided with a second dose,” said Tam. “At the same time, we're following the evolving science… to provide the most up to date advice on whether a mixed-dose schedule is an appropriate way to go, and that would offer a choice essentially, for those who have received AstraZeneca.”