Canada’s coronavirus vaccination rollout for the general population began to take shape Monday as the country added another 2,559 new infections and 23 more deaths.
The latest data pushed the national caseload to 870,038, while the death toll now stands at 22,017. Nearly 2,000 of the more than 30,000 active cases across the country are in hospital, while an additional 817,591 people have recovered from COVID-19.
Monday saw Ontario, Quebec, Nova Scotia and British Columbia announce or start plans to begin vaccinating older seniors, after inoculating their frontline health-care worker and long-term care populations. To date, over 1.9 million vaccine doses have been administered nationwide.
Yet those rollouts must now contend with new guidance from the National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI), which says the newly-approved Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine is not recommended for patients over 65 years of age.
Health Canada gave the shot the green light on Friday, saying it was recommended for all adults.
The NACI said there is “limited information on the efficacy” of AstraZeneca’s vaccine for adults over 65, while noting its availability could help speed up vaccination for younger age groups, who otherwise would have to wait longer for protection.
The Public Health Agency of Canada is expecting delivery of about 445,000 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine this week and none from Moderna — numbers that are down from last week’s all-time high.
Canada has signed an overall deal for 24 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine, with 500,000 of them set to arrive this week, according to distributor Verity Pharmaceuticals.
A fourth vaccine from Johnson & Johnson, which requires only a single dose and was approved by the United States last week, may also be around the corner. Health Canada’s chief medical adviser Dr. Surpiya Sharma told Global News Monday that the “last piece” of manufacturing data needed to determine the shot’s approval has been received.
The expansion of vaccines across the country come as cases and deaths are being added at a slower rate compared to the record peak seen in early January.
Yet Canada’s chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam noted on Twitter Monday that average daily case counts “have since levelled off and are now showing a moderate increase.”
Tam noted a total of 1,254 cases of various, more transmissible variants of COVID-19 have been detected in Canada, with Ontario, Alberta, British Columbia and Quebec seeing the highest numbers.
“To avert resurgence fueled by rapidly spreading #VariantsOfConcern cases & outbreaks, we must keep up with public health measures & individual practices,” she said. “It’s up to all of us to protect our progress, prevent more illnesses & save lives.”
Ontario reported the most new cases of any jurisdiction Monday with 1,023, while six more people have died. In Quebec, the province hardest hit by the virus, 613 more infections and six new deaths were announced.
High call volumes and appointment bookings plagued the first day of general vaccinations for people over 85 years old in both provinces, while a mass vaccination site at Montreal’s Olympic Stadium saw long lineups.
In Atlantic Canada, Nova Scotia had to take its vaccination booking webpage offline after it experienced technical issues on its first day accepting people aged 80 and over. The province reported one new case, as did New Brunswick.
Despite no new cases in Prince Edward Island Monday, a 72-hour lockdown still took effect due to several clusters that have added 17 new cases over the past few days.
Newfoundland and Labrador added two new cases, a steep drop-off from the dozens of daily cases being reported in February. Officials said they will revisit lockdown measures in the St. John’s region later this month.
The Prairie provinces of Saskatchewan and Manitoba reported 154 and 35 new cases, respectively, while Manitoba added one more death.
Alberta, which reported 291 more infections and two new deaths, announced a “cautious” move into the next stage of its reopening plan. Low-intensity indoor fitness programs will be allowed to restart and libraries can reopen with limited capacity, but changes to restrictions for retail, hotels and other industries have been delayed.
Health officials in B.C. said the next phase of its immunization plan, targeting seniors over 80 and Indigenous seniors 65 and up, will begin next week. It also said it will extend the time between the required two doses to 16 weeks, due to new data suggesting a single dose provides near-complete immunity from the virus.
The province, which takes the weekend off from reporting data, reported 1,478 new cases and eight deaths over the past three days.
In the territories, one new case was announced in Nunavut, while Yukon and Northwest Territories did not see any new cases.
Globally, the novel coronavirus pandemic has infected at least 114,417,054 people, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. The worldwide death toll has climbed to 2,537,563 as of 10 p.m. ET.
The United States continues to lead the world in both cases, with over 28.6 million, and deaths, which have surpassed 514,000.
— With files from the Canadian Press