Canada will receive 82,000 fewer doses of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine in the next shipment, leaving the company to fill a 1.3-million dose shortfall in March in order to meet the federal government’s targets.
The reduction is the latest blow to the federal government’s vaccine deliveries which have also seen Pfizer significantly reducing the doses Canada has received in recent weeks.
Maj.-Gen. Dany Fortin, who is in charge of the federal vaccine rollout, said Thursday Moderna had assured the government Canada will receive the full two million doses it was promised by the end of March.
“We have no reason to doubt that. We’re in constant discussion with them,” he said at a press conference in French.
The next shipment of Moderna is expected to arrive in Canada the week of Feb. 22, and will include 168,000 doses, Fortin said. That’s down from the 250,000 the government had originally expected.
Fortin said the government has been told to expect another two shipments to arrive in March, though he couldn’t specify exactly when they will arrive or the amount of vaccines that will be included in each shipment.
Moderna began regular delivery of its vaccine in December. Its last shipment at the beginning of the month was also about 20 per cent short of what the company had promised. By the end of February, Moderna will have delivered just short of 700,000 doses in just over two months.
Fortin also said the government still expects to receive the promised four million doses of the Pfizer BioNTech vaccine by the end of March. Pfizer was supposed to deliver 1.15 million doses of its vaccine over the past four weeks, but instead only received 339,000, according to the Canadian Press.
That rollout is set to accelerate in the coming weeks, with the government counting on approximately 403,000 doses arriving next week, 475,000 the last week of February and 444,000 in each week of the first two weeks of March.
Those numbers “reflect the recent label change authorization from Health Canada,” Fortin noted. Pfizer initially counted five vials per dose in its vaccine. After health care providers realized they could extract six doses, the company asked Health Canada to recognize that each vial contains six doses, which the regulator did Tuesday.
The government has ordered 64 million of specialized low-dead space syringes that help extract more liquid from each dose of the vaccine.
Fortin said the government is in the process of distributing the syringes. “In some cases they will arrive in the coming couple of days. All provinces will have sufficient quantities for the next several weeks, and more are coming,” he said.
Dr. Howard Njoo, Canada’s deputy chief public health officer, added the government held English-language webinar training with 1,800 participants on techniques for vaccinators to use to extract the sixth dose, and will hold another in French, as well as additional educational support. “We’re supporting the provinces and territories,” he said.
To date, the government has distributed a total of 1.4 million doses of both vaccines, Fortin said.
Also on Thursday, the Manitoba government announced it had reached its own deal for two million doses of a Canada-made vaccine, contingent on that vaccine receiving regulatory approval from Health Canada. Providence Therapeutics’ mRNA vaccine began Phase 1 human trials late last month.
When asked about Manitoba’s deal, Dr. Njoo was skeptical about the idea of provinces going on their own to strike vaccine agreements, noting Health Canada is the only regulator in the country that can approve vaccines.
“I’m not quite sure I understand in terms of how quite how individual jurisdictions may enter into any sort of agreement at this point with any sort of unapproved products,” he said in the press conference. “I think we need to wait for Health Canada to get a submission… and go through the very strict and regulatory process for approval.”
He added economies of scale apply to vaccine procurement, and that “it’s in some ways better for… the government of Canada as a bulk buyer on behalf of Canada and provinces and territories.”
Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister said in the press release announcing the Providence Therapeutics agreement that the province has been reliant on the federal government buying vaccines that are manufactured outside of Canada, which has resulted in Canadians being slower to receive vaccines than residents of many other countries.
Officials were asked about why Canada lags other countries, such as the U.K., at the press conference Thursday. In the U.K., nearly 20 per cent of the population has received at least one dose of the vaccine, in comparison to 1.7 per cent of Canadians, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.
“It’s always challenging to compare different countries, because every country has its own particular context. Geographical factors, the way the health care system is set up, and so forth,” Dr. Njoo said. He added that although the vaccine rollout may be going faster in the U.K., the country is “having a tough time with COVID-19 in general.”
“I think it’s not just vaccination itself that should be looked at,” Dr. Njoo said.