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Canada’s September vaccine target could hinge on other approvals

Click to play video 'Some premiers worry about coronavirus vaccine shortage' Some premiers worry about coronavirus vaccine shortage
WATCH: Some premiers worry about coronavirus vaccine shortage – Jan 8, 2021

Canada’s goal to acquire enough COVID-19 vaccines for all Canadians by the fall could hinge, in part, on the approval of other candidates.

While the planned deliveries of Pfizer and Moderna vaccines will make up a portion of the total required to get shots into the arms of Canadians who want them, the September target is “dependent on Health Canada approval of certain vaccines,” said Public Services and Procurement Minister Anita Anand.

“It’s a multi-prolonged approach,” she said at a news conference on Friday. “We are pressing on all fronts to do whatever it takes to make sure we have vaccines in this country as soon as possible.”

Read more: Canada’s ‘slow’ rollout of coronavirus vaccine ’embarrassing,' experts say

A number of potential vaccine candidates are still being analyzed, including Johnson & Johnson’s and AstraZeneca’s, the latter of which has already been approved in other countries.

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Health Canada said some clinical questions need to be looked into before a final decision is made.

However, when pressed, Anand said the government still expects to get enough vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna to fulfill its September goal.

“In terms of the Pfizer and Moderna numbers, yes, in large part we are planning that Pfizer and Moderna doses will comprise the number of doses required to make sure that any Canadian who wishes to be vaccinated will be vaccinated by the end of September,” she said.

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Coronavirus: Ford asks Health Canada to approve AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine – Jan 8, 2021

As Canada sinks further into a winter of rising COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths, the speed and efficiency of vaccinations are top of mind. According to many, it’s not happening fast enough.

Some provinces have criticized the speed of delivery and distribution. Others, like Ontario, have recently sounded the alarm about supply, claiming the province could be entirely out of Pfizer shots by the end of next week.

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Answers on how the process will be sped up are still hazy.

Read more: Canada still awaiting data from AstraZeneca as U.K. approves new coronavirus vaccine

Gen. Dany Fortin, who is overseeing logistical planning for Canada’s vaccine distribution efforts, insisted Friday that Canada is on track, but said that forecasts on deliveries will “continue to fluctuate on a regular basis” as the complex process of delivering the vaccines is ironed out.

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“It needs experience and this is increasing every day,” he said. “I believe the provinces and territories will considerably ramp up their ability to distribute the vaccines in the coming months.”

Fortin said the initial phase of Canada’s supply — through January, February and March — is “limited and steady.” By April, he expects a “significant ramp up” that will continue through the rest of the second quarter of the year.

Shipments of Moderna vaccines occur every three weeks. Pfizer’s are weekly. The quantities of those deliveries are slated to scale up in February.

“In fact, we’ll be doubling our vaccine delivery from January to February alone,” Anand said.

When asked about the provinces’ concerns, Anand and Fortin seemed to point the finger back at the provinces.

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“We’ve been clear about our delivery schedule, we’ve been clear we’re ramping up the doses we’re delivering to the provinces,” Anand said. “This information the provinces have. They can use that for their planning purposes. The phrase ‘running out of vaccines’ has to be taken in that context.”

Of Ontario’s total 196,125 delivered doses, approximately 89,676 have been administered, according to a vaccine tracker run by a University of Saskatchewan student based on official updates from each province. The CEO of University Health Network said Friday that there are thousands of immunization appointments scheduled for the weekend, but the hospital is on the cusp of running out of shots.

In Quebec, 76,572 of 115,373 vaccines have been administered. In Manitoba, about 6,328 vaccines have been administered out of a delivery total of 25,825 so far.

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Coronavirus: Vaccinations to ‘scale up’ in February, Trudeau says – Jan 8, 2021

“Our numbers are their numbers,” Fortin added. “They have visibility on what’s coming in January and February and can plan accordingly.’

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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has also expressed his frustration at the slow rollout.

However, on Friday, he appeared more confident, saying Canada is “ensuring better efficacy” on delivering ample vaccinations “every day.”

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He pointed to a tally of Moderna and Pfizer vaccines delivered so far, as did Fortin.

They said more than 124,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine were delivered to 68 sites across the country this week, and over 208,000 are expected to be delivered weekly for the rest of January.

As for the Moderna vaccine, more than 171,000 doses will be delivered to the provinces and territories by the end of next week. As it stands, Canada is on track to deliver more than 1.3 million doses of both approved vaccines by the end of January, they said.

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From there, quantities will grow in February.

Read more: Canada has approved 2 coronavirus vaccines. How are other candidates progressing?

When asked how, exactly, that process will be ramped up, Trudeau said it’s an issue all levels of government are working on “right now.”

“The need for predictability allows provinces to schedule deliveries, to schedule inoculations, to have that most efficient possible system,” he said.

“We need to get it from the companies themselves. It’s not the federal government that decides that. As soon as we can get more information, we’ll pass that along to provinces so they can plan.”

Click to play video 'Coronavirus: Ontario will be out of Pfizer COVID-19 vaccines by the end of next week, Ford says' Coronavirus: Ontario will be out of Pfizer COVID-19 vaccines by the end of next week, Ford says
Coronavirus: Ontario will be out of Pfizer COVID-19 vaccines by the end of next week, Ford says – Jan 8, 2021

The criticism about vaccine rollout is being lobbed in several directions.

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Some provinces say they’re running out of vaccines, and that the federal government hasn’t met their supply needs. On the flipside, health-care professionals have expressed frustration at the slow pace of immunizations in their jurisdictions, claiming that some vaccines are sitting unused.

Because vaccines have mostly been administered in hospitals, other health-care workers — like pharmacists and community health workers — haven’t been utilized, which some experts say would boost efficiency. As of now, it’s slowing things down, they say.

Read more: Canada’s pharmacies ‘ready and willing’ to join coronavirus vaccination effort

Trudeau met with premiers virtually Thursday after saying earlier this week that he wants to work with provinces and territories because the administration of vaccines has been a challenge in some jurisdictions.

During the meeting with the premiers, Trudeau conceded that his earlier remark was not helpful, according to sources close to some premiers who attended the meeting.

“Obviously it takes time to establish processes to deliver vaccines efficiently and safely,” he said Friday. “While there’s always a trial period, we continue to help provinces so they can step up the pace in an impressive way during this weekend and the coming weeks, as well.”

— with files from The Canadian Press and Reuters

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