Seeking to reassure Canadians who are frustrated about the pace and scale of the national COVID-19 vaccine rollout, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said that people should not be worried about the “noise” surrounding the campaign, because the government remains “on track” to meet its targets.
After a promising December start, Canada’s vaccine campaign has recently been plagued by delays and now it’ll be mid-February before shots are going in arms at the rates prepared for.
The prime minister said that he’s recently spoken with the two vaccine makers whose COVID-19 shots are in use in Canada, Pfizer and Moderna, and they have committed to sending their promised combined six million doses by the end of March.
“I speak almost every week with CEOs of these vaccine companies, and they have assured me that they will meet their obligations,” Trudeau said, adding that the government is planning on additional vaccine candidates becoming available as Health Canada approves them and in the months ahead, the mass vaccination campaign will ramp up.
“Those doses will begin to accelerate and come in the hundreds of thousands in the coming weeks,” he said.
After initially stating that if AstraZeneca’s vaccine candidate was given the green light, the company would be sending all 20 million of its promised doses by the end of June—which would effectively double the 20 million doses expected between April and June from Pfizer and Moderna—Trudeau’s office clarified that the prime minister misspoke.
The 20 million AstraZeneca doses will arrive between approval and the end of September, with the delivery schedule for those doses to be confirmed after the vaccine is approved.
Health Canada’s regulatory experts have been assessing AstraZeneca’s submission for safety and efficacy since October, and the two-dose vaccine could be granted approval as early as next week, following several other nations.
“Moving forward the planning has begun and is well underway for the second and third quarters, where we anticipate we will have a volume of a variety of vaccines available in Canada,” said Health Minister Patty Hajdu on Friday.
Facing reduced shipments because Canada is at the mercy of major international pharmaceutical companies, the federal government has been under the microscope for several weeks now.
In a press conference on Parliament Hill, Bloc Quebecois Leader Yves-Francois Blanchet pointed to January’s job losses and said that every day that Canada does not receive the number of vaccines it was once planning for, the economy takes a hit.
“Restoring confidence depends on the ability of this government to get the vaccines delivered according to a precise plan,” he said, echoing ongoing criticism levelled by other opposition parties throughout the week.
On Friday, Trudeau described the current shortages as “turbulence,” and said he knows that while thousands of Canadians are experiencing relief knowing someone they love is in the process of being immunized, millions of Canadians are still waiting their turn and are watching the ups and downs with concern.
“I hear it from all Canadians right now… They want to know when they can go back to everything they’ve done before… When the vaccines are going to come? That’s why there’s a lot of anxiety and there’s a lot of noise going on right now,” Trudeau said during his Rideau Cottage address.
“I know how tired we all are. I know how anxious we are to see our loved ones safe, to see life returning to normal. We feel it too,” he said.
Summer will come, and it will be better than this winter, Trudeau said in French. “We will get everyone vaccinated by September.”
The prime minister also sought to defend his government’s decision to dip into the supplies from global vaccine-sharing effort known as COVAX, seeing Canada’s set to receive a minimum of 1.9 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine before the end of June, on top of the 20 million doses Canada secured access to independently.
Trudeau said Canada’s contribution to the program was “always intended” to allow the government to access additional doses for Canadians, while chipping in to provide shots to lower income countries.
“Canadians expect to get effective vaccines as quickly as possible and that’s why we cast our net extremely wide with both international contracts and domestic investments. And I know everyone is looking forward to getting those vaccines into their arms as quickly as possible,” Trudeau said.