Ontario’s health minister on Wednesday suggested Canada could start receiving millions of doses of COVID-19 as soon as January, providing a glimmer of hope on an otherwise dark day marked by rising cases and death counts in many provinces.
Christine Elliott said in question period that the country is set to get four million doses of the Pfizer vaccine between January and March as well as two million doses of Moderna’s vaccine.
She said in question period that 1.6 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine and 800,000 of the Moderna vaccine are destined for Ontario.
When asked directly to confirm the dates and numbers, federal Health Minister Patty Hajdu would only say it was “really exciting” that Canada is well-positioned to receive millions of doses from both companies.
“There are a number of steps to go through before we actually get to the point of distribution, including the regulatory review with Health Canada to ensure the safety of both vaccines,” Hajdu told reporters.
In Alberta, Health Minister Tyler Shandro announced on Twitter that the province is expecting its per capita share of 465,000 doses from Pfizer and 221,000 from Moderna, with the first shipments to arrive early in the new year.
Pfizer announced Wednesday it intends to seek approval for emergency use of its novel coronavirus vaccine after new test results showed it is 95 per cent effective, is safe, and works to protects vulnerable older adults.
Hajdu said both manufacturers had also submitted for approval in Canada, which she said will allow regulators to receive and review data as it comes in.
Elliott said that once the vaccine is approved, priority will go to people in long-term care homes, hospitals and group settings — similar to the flu vaccine.
Distribution, however, can be complicated, given that both Pfizer and Moderna’s vaccines need to be stored at cold temperatures. Both also require two shots, 21 days apart.
“This is a major logistical challenge but we have an entire group within the ministry of health right now that are planning for that,” she said.
The news on vaccines was a bright spot on an otherwise sombre day for many provinces struggling with the virus’ fallout. Both Quebec and Ontario reported more than 30 additional deaths each on Wednesday, as well as well over 1,000 new cases.
The news prompted Ontario Premier Doug Ford to warn that parts of the province were “staring down the barrel of another lockdown.”
Ford warned new measures for Toronto and neighbouring Peel and York regions would be announced on Friday.
Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, sounded the alarm over a rise in cases in vulnerable populations and settings.
“Cases have been increasing in elderly adults for several weeks, with those aged 80 years and older now having the highest incidence rate nationally,” she said in a statement.
“More and larger outbreaks are occurring in long term care homes, congregate living settings and hospitals, and spreading in Indigenous communities.”
Tam also mentioned Nunavut, which began a two-week shutdown of schools and non-essential businesses amid what the premier described as a significant rise in cases.
The territory reported 10 new COVID-19 infections on Wednesday, bringing its total from 60 to 70.
Tam said the rise in transmission puts lives at risk and presents significant challenges for health services, especially in areas not equipped to manage what she called complex medical emergencies.
British Columbia Premier John Horgan suggested the time had some for a “pan-Canadian approach” to limit non-essential travel, and promised to reach out to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on the issue.
Non-essential travel is banned in B.C., and Horgan said he’d like that to apply to out-of-province visitors as well.
“We need to make sure that people in Coquitlam are living under the same rules as people in Chicoutimi,” Horgan said. British Columbia reported a record-breaking 717 cases on Tuesday.
In Manitoba, health officials announced a new $298 fine for people who refuse to wear masks in indoor spaces as the province reported nearly 400 new cases and 11 additional deaths.
Saskatchewan reported 132 new infections and a rise in hospitalizations, to 76, as the opposition NDP called on Premier Scott Moe to impose a partial lockdown to stem the virus’s spread.
Even Atlantic Canada, long touted as a Canadian success story when it comes to keeping COVID-19 at bay, saw several new cases, including nine in New Brunswick, three in Nova Scotia, and two in Newfoundland and Labrador.