Canada could be administering 3.1 million COVID-19 vaccine doses a week, but well into what the federal government has coined the ‘ramp-up’ phase of Canada’s vaccine rollout, the number of shots coming into Canada most weeks is still below what provinces and territories are capable of putting into arms, according to the head of the Public Health Agency of Canada.
Asked recently at the House of Commons Health Committee the maximum number of doses per week that the provinces and territories were currently capable of administering, Maj.-Gen. Dany Fortin, who is leading the logistics of Canada’s rollout couldn’t say, but in a follow-up response to MPs, PHAC President Iain Stewart put a number on it.
“The range varies between provinces and territories because of the different modes used (e.g., pharmacies, mass clinics, physician’s offices, etc.), population sizes, and vaccine supply. It is estimated that approximately 3.1 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine can be administered each week across the country,” Stewart said, responding to the question posed by NDP MP and health critic Don Davies.
Next week, the federal government is expecting deliveries of a total of 1.9 million doses.
“COVID infections are raging across Canada and hospitals in many provinces are overwhelmed. Canadians need to be vaccinated as quickly as possible in order to help address this crisis. But, the head of the Public Health Agency just told the health committee that Canada’s vaccine rollout is only operating at half capacity,” said Davies during question period on Thursday, following the government’s latest vaccine delivery briefing.
“This is due to a lack of supply of doses. Will the Liberals stop spinning and blaming others, take responsibility for their failure to secure enough vaccines, and tell Canadians when we will be able to vaccinate at full capacity?” he asked.
Responding to Davies’ question, Health Minister Patty Hajdu said the federal government has been “extremely clear and transparent with Canadians about the expected vaccine rollout, about the doses arriving in our country, and indeed any delays in those doses.”
She noted that Canada is currently ahead where it was projected to be by now when it comes to the number of total doses already delivered, with tens of millions more doses anticipated to arrive over May and June.
“We will continue to work with provinces and territories to get the job done,” she said.
At Thursday’s briefing, Fortin said that next week Canada will see shipments from three manufacturers, with doses coming from Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson.
Next week’s deliveries include 1,019,070 doses of the Pfizer vaccine, 650,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine, and 300,000 doses of the single-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine. Should all shipments arrive on time, the plan is to get the batches out to provinces and territories to use by early May.
The current level of supply, while increasing gradually and helping Canada rise up in certain global vaccine metrics, is still subject to criticism from the federal opposition parties, who are questioning whether Canada would be in as serious of a third wave had more doses arrived in Canada over the winter.
For months, some premiers including Ontario Premier Doug Ford and Alberta Premier Jason Kenney have bemoaned the federal procurement, saying they could handle administering tens of thousands more doses than they are routinely being sent. With weeks ahead where Canada could regularly see shipments larger than 3.1 million doses, across the country capacity will have to scale up further to keep pace.
FUTURE ASTRAZENECA DELIVERIES UNCERTAIN
Federal officials also confirmed Thursday that just as some provinces have increased eligibility for the AstraZeneca vaccine, in a push to use up doses at pharmacies, the government does not know when the next shipment of that vaccine will arrive.
“We don’t have clarity, a line of sight on AstraZeneca in the short term,” Fortin said.
Uncertainty has surrounded Canada’s AstraZeneca shipments since that vaccine was authorized for use by Health Canada in February. So far, deliveries of the AstraZeneca vaccine have only started to trickle in from smaller deals Canada made to get doses from COVAX, India, and the United States, rather than from the main contract with AstraZeneca-Oxford. The main contract, for 20 million shots, is estimated to start in June.
Now, as India is facing a record-setting number of new daily cases, federal officials confirmed Thursday that the outstanding 1.5 million COVISHIELD doses Canada secured from the Serum Institute of India as part of a contract for two million doses won’t be coming anytime soon given the state of the pandemic in that country.
“We are continuing to work with the Serum Institute on delivery of its vaccine to Canada… Given the situation in India, there is a delay at the moment,” said Public Services and Procurement director general Joelle Paquette.
Canada was expecting to see a total of 4.1 million AstraZeneca vaccines arrive by the end of June, with the bulk of deliveries set to come sometime between July and September. To date, 2.3 million AstraZeneca doses have arrived in Canada.
It’s possible a new delivery from U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration could buoy Canada’s AstraZeneca shortage, though while he’s suggested the U.S. could be sending more doses of this vaccine to Canada on top of the 1.5 million already loaned to us as the Americans have still not authorized it, no specifics have been ironed out.
Paquette said procurement officials are working with the Biden administration now on “next steps.”
MODERNA, PFIZER SPECIFICS
The total number of doses coming to Canada next week would have been larger, had Moderna not slashed its promised next shipment of 1.2 million doses in half. This shipment was initially supposed to arrive this week, but the company continues to experience issues with ramping up their production capacity.
After next week’s delivery, it remains unclear how many doses will be in Moderna’s next delivery, or when it will land. The last Moderna shipment to arrive on time and in full was on March 11.
Starting in May, after the government secured more vaccines from Pfizer, each week’s shipment is set to double what it has been in April, with two million doses set to arrive each week, increasing to 2.4 million doses per week in June. Canada is set to receive a total of 24 million doses of the two-shot Pfizer vaccine between April and June.
FIRST BATCH OF J&J
Next week’s arrival of Johnson & Johnson doses are the first, after Health Canada approved the single-shot viral vector vaccine for use in anyone 18 years of age and older in early March.
The government says the next shipment from Johnson & Johnson is expected in June, but it’s unclear how large it will be. Canada has a contract for 10 million shots.
The federal advisory committee, which has been offering more targeted guidance on which specific populations should be prioritized for access to the vaccines authorized for use in Canada, has yet to chime in on Johnson & Johnson, meaning each jurisdiction may be making that call on their own.