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Despite vaccine rollout headaches, feds expect campaign to scale up soon

Click to play video 'Coronavirus: Canada on track to receive 4 million doses of Pfizer vaccine by end of March' Coronavirus: Canada on track to receive 4 million doses of Pfizer vaccine by end of March
WATCH: Canada is on track to receive four million doses of Pfizer vaccine by the end of March – Feb 11, 2021

Despite a handful of delivery delays, Canadian officials remain confident that the country is on track to hit its vaccination targets.

Canada still expects to get four million doses from Pfizer-BioNTech and two million doses from Moderna by the end of March, as well as a subsequent 20 million in the spring.

The ultimate goal — as promised by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau — is that everyone who wants to be vaccinated will be by September.

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Maj.-Gen. Dany Fortin, who is overseeing logistical planning for Canada’s vaccine distribution efforts, reiterated Thursday that Canada is still very much on track to meet all aforementioned goals.

“We’re currently in a period of more restricted numbers for the first quarter. We’ve done what we can to stretch it out — everyone has tried to stretch out the results of the production, given the demand — but production is increasing, and there is no indication that the opposite will take place,” he told reporters at a virtual press conference.

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Federal officials are cautiously optimistic that the delivery headaches will soon be behind Canada.

The month-long slowdown of deliveries should end next week, according to Fortin, triggering the single biggest shipments from Pfizer to date.

Click to play video 'Coronavirus: Canada’s vaccine strategy to ramp up at end of Q1, Njoo says' Coronavirus: Canada’s vaccine strategy to ramp up at end of Q1, Njoo says
Coronavirus: Canada’s vaccine strategy to ramp up at end of Q1, Njoo says – Feb 11, 2021

Starting Monday, Pfizer will deliver just over 400,000 doses to Canada.

That will scale up to 475,000 doses for the week of Feb. 22. Throughout the first two weeks of March, Fortin said Pfizer has confirmed it will ship 444,000 doses.

In total, over the next four weeks, Canada is expected to receive nearly 1.8 million doses from Pfizer.

All of the above deliveries will reflect the recent label change authorization, which will permit vaccinators to draw six doses from a single vial, instead of five. Health Canada approved Pfizer’s request to change the regimen on Feb. 9, coming about a month after the U.S. and the European Union did the same. The change will require vaccinators to administer the shots using a special syringe, which Fortin and Arianne Reza, the associate deputy minister at Public Services and Procurement Canada, say are also already in circulation and being distributed.

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Fortin acknowledged there will be a “fair bit of synchronizing” to do with provinces and territories as the vaccination campaign ramps up, but said they’re working “tirelessly” to ensure the right information is provided to provinces so they can prepare.

“Despite temporary delays, efforts are going as expected thanks to the collaboration from all levels of government,” he said. “We expect to share information with provinces as soon as possible.”

As for Moderna, Fortin provided a slightly clearer picture of shipments.

The company ships its drug on a three-week cycle. Canada expects to receive 168,000 doses the week of Feb. 22 — but that’s only two-thirds of what it was supposed to be.

Click to play video 'Coronavirus: Canada to see “significant increase in vaccine supply” from April-June, Fortin says' Coronavirus: Canada to see “significant increase in vaccine supply” from April-June, Fortin says
Coronavirus: Canada to see “significant increase in vaccine supply” from April-June, Fortin says – Feb 4, 2021

Previously, Fortin was unable to provide an estimate of the quantities expected from Moderna. He insisted it was a temporary issue, but offered no details as to why Moderna alerted Canada of the reduction.

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At the time, Fortin acknowledged that Moderna would not hit its previously projected target of 249,000 doses for that last week of February.

According to The Canadian Press, the company is struggling to ramp up production with its Swiss manufacturing partner Lonza.

Fortin said Canada does not have delivery estimates from Moderna past the next two weeks but insisted they’re in regular communication with the company.

“We’re on the right path,” Fortin said.

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“Moderna has assured us that we will have received the two million total by the end of March. That is the information I am working off today. That is the information the government of Canada is working with. We are confident that we are working well with Moderna… If there were any problems, they’d raise them.”

Pfizer previously had to reduce its shipment targets to Canada and other countries while the pharmaceutical company completed upgrades to its plant in Belgium. Those delays have since passed for Canada.

A spokesperson for Pfizer Canada told The Canadian Press that those upgrades are complete and that production is back on track to meet Canada’s order of four million doses by the end of March.

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— with files from The Canadian Press