As Canada goes from scarcity to vaccine flood, can we handle the challenge?

What has been an interminable drought is becoming a flood, but that doesn’t mean it is clear sailing from here.

OTTAWA – Canada’s long winter of vaccine scarcity should mercifully come to an end next week, but in a global race for doses another shortage could still derail the effort.

Next week, Pfizer is set to deliver approximately 1.2 million doses of its vaccine and then repeat that again in the final week of March. Moderna will deliver 846,000 doses of its shots next week, making it the first time Canada has received two million doses in a seven-day span.

Provinces are managing their own vaccine campaigns and targeting both seniors and people in vulnerable sectors, as well as frontline workers.

But to put those figures in context, the deliveries over the next two weeks should be more than enough to give a first dose to all of the roughly three million Canadians in their 70s. In April, with Pfizer, Moderna and AstraZeneca shots that have been committed, provinces could cover most of the people between 55 and 70.

Canada is still behind many Western countries, but the coming surge in vaccines that is expected to continue through the spring should get millions of people in this country at least their first doses of protection.

The ramp up is expected to continue through the spring. Pfizer has committed to delivering more than a million doses of vaccine every week through May. Moderna is scheduled to deliver about two million in April and a total of 12.3 million before June.

Canada will receive a further 1.5 million doses of AstraZeneca’s vaccine from the Serum Institute in India, split between April and early May. And a deal with the U.S. announced Friday should see another 1. 5 million doses of AstraZeneca’s vaccine before the end of this month.

What has been an interminable drought is becoming a flood, but that doesn’t mean it is clear sailing from here.

The Liberals have been hit in the press, the House of Commons and the polls for the slow pace of the roll-out. Despite the upward trend, Canada’s Procurement Minister Anita Anand isn’t celebrating yet.

“We are in a globally competitive environment where all countries want the same product,” she said. “From our experience with supply chains in this pandemic that the job isn’t done until the product that we need is in this country.”

The government has consistently said all Canadians will be fully vaccinated by September and it currently expects to have 118 million doses of vaccine in Canada by then, which would be enough to vaccinate all Canadians nearly twice over.

Much of that volume relies on Pfizer and Moderna, who manufacture their vaccines in Europe, and countries on the continent have been increasingly agitated about vaccine shipments leaving their borders to go elsewhere.

Anand said that is one area she is watching closely.

“We are seeing vaccine nationalism take hold in various areas of the world and in particular Europe. Obviously, my concern rests there,” she said.

Canada has also approved Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine and has an order for 10 million of that one-dose shot. Before the end of September, the government expects an additional 20 million doses of AstraZeneca’s vaccine.

But both of those shipments are expected to come from the U.S. Outside the 1.5 million doses approved for Canada on Friday, the Biden administration has insisted that vaccines made in the U.S. stay there, until America’s needs are fully met.

Anand said she is pushing for a delivery schedule for both of those vaccines and hopes to have it soon, but she has learned to be cautious.

“One of the key lessons that I think we all should take is that, in a time of crisis, where all countries in the world are seeking the same product. There are bound to be bumps in the road,” she said.

Vaccine diplomacy has the potential to throw a wrench in Canada’s vaccine effort, but the provincial rollout is a big unanswered question as well.

Provinces have had problems with online booking systems and in some weeks vaccine doses have piled up in freezers rather than go into arms.

 Anita Anand, Minister of Public Services and Procurement, opens a box with some of the first 500,000 of the 2-million AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine doses that Canada has secured through a deal with the Serum Institute of India, March 3, 2021.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford insists his province is ready and is missing only the federal supply.

“We have the ability to administer over 4.8 million doses per month, and again that’s a conservative figure, but in March. We’ve only received enough supply to do just over 1.6 million,” he said.

Ford insisted his province has a plan that can “move on a dime” if more supply arrives, moving the vaccine into more pharmacies and doctors’ offices, but he said without consistency the ups and down can be a major logistical problem when the vaccine shipments slow down.

“We have to bring everything back down. It’s a massive, massive undertaking,” he said.

British Columbia’s Health Minister Adrian Minister Dix said this week that the government has tried to keep a flexible approach through the earlier shortage of vaccines. The province is set to start vaccinating people in their 70s next week.

“When our supply was less certain in the month of January, we adapted to make sure we did not waiver,” he said.

Dr. Isaac Bogoch, an infectious disease specialist who sits on the Ontario government’s vaccine task force, is confident the provinces are ready. He said even when Ontario had small amounts of vaccine in January it managed to vaccinate 15,000 people a day in long-term care homes, which comes with a lot of logistical challenges.

He said scaling that up will be a challenge, but provinces are up to it. He pointed out Toronto has three mass vaccination sites now, but plans for nine when the vaccine supply increases.

“That massive inflection point of turning a small trickle of vaccines into a flood is really coming at the tail end of March and into April,” he said.

Bogoch said he expects to see a drop in infections and hospitalizations once those vaccines get out into arms. He said obviously it would have been better for Canada to have had more doses sooner, but he said many of the countries ahead of us are using vaccines from Russia and China that Canadians would be unlikely to take.

“Stating the obvious, faster and more widespread vaccination equals earlier benefit,” he said. “Are we happy with where we are? No, of course not. But at least let’s have a fair comparison and a fair conversation.”

Pfizer Canada’s president Cole Pinnow appeared before a parliamentary committee earlier this month and said Canada was among the early movers to sign a deal for vaccines. He said the government’s initial contract had the first deliveries scheduled in 2021, not late 2020 which ended up happening, because the vaccine was approved more swiftly.

“We initiated our application in October, and by mid-November we had made sufficient progress that a regulatory decision in December became a possibility,” he told MPs. “This was almost two months earlier than originally anticipated.”

Anand said she believes the ability to get doses moved forward was a success and one she hopes to continue.

“In this volatile environment the Government of Canada has continued to weather the storm to ensure vaccines are coming into this country at an increasingly accelerated basis,” she said. “Our negotiations with the vaccine suppliers continue there, continuing every day, because we are always looking for accelerated deliveries on an expedited basis.”

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Source: National Post Quebec Nordiques