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Canadian Forces general to head vaccination effort: Trudeau

Friday, November 27, 2020 @ 4:19 PM | By Terry Davidson

The senior military man leading the Canadian Army’s response to COVID-19 has been tapped to run a national vaccine centre responsible for planning, cold storage and distribution.

In his Nov. 27 address to the nation, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said his government is preparing for the greatest mobilization effort the country has seen since the Second World War in vaccinating Canadians — more than half of whom, he said, could be vaccinated by September 2021.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau

Trudeau said a “national operations centre” will be run by Maj.-Gen. Dany Fortin, the current chief of staff of the Canadian Joint Operations Command and a former commander of the NATO mission in Iraq.

Fortin was involved in organizing the much-publicized deployment of the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) to long-term care homes hit hard by COVID-19 over the summer — a mission that produced reports detailing neglect and abuse of elderly residents.    

Trudeau said Canada is prepared for large-scale rollouts of vaccines in what “will be the biggest immunization in the history of the country.”

“To assist in this process, we are setting up a national operations centre, through the Public Health Agency of Canada, with the support of the [CAF] to co-ordinate logistics and distribution of vaccines,” said Trudeau, announcing that Fortin “will be heading up the logistics and operations within this centre.”

“The CAF will assist on planning, including to meet challenges like cold storage requirements, data sharing and reaching Indigenous and rural communities,” said Trudeau. “For our part, the government has already purchased freezers to work for specific vaccine candidates. This will be a major effort, but … Canada can and will do this.”

According to a federal government news release, “27 CAF personnel, with more to follow, are currently seconded to (the Public Health Agency of Canada), including logistics experts, operational planners, pharmacists, health care administrators, engineers and information technology experts.”

Trudeau was asked why he cannot give Canadians a concrete timeline on vaccine delivery.

“We are working extremely hard on approving vaccines,” he said. “Our health experts, our scientists are engaged in rolling approvals of the three top vaccine candidates, including Pfizer. We are hopeful that things are going to happen quickly, but at the same time … we need to be able to say confidently that these vaccines are safe, which is why we’re very interested in what people around the world are doing, but Canadian experts and Canadian scientists will be driving the safety of Canadians every step of the way.”

Trudeau was asked where Canada sits in the global lineup.

“That race to get to the starting line first, I can understand, but this pandemic doesn’t get over until we reach the finish line, and that’s why the news that Canadians can expect, if all goes well, to have more than half of us vaccinated by next September is significant positive news.”

Health officials reportedly said on Nov. 26 that while vaccines could be approved within a few weeks, vaccinations are not expected to start until January.

Shortly after Trudeau’s address, Ontario’s government issued a statement demanding that Ottawa “immediately lay out its plan to allocate COVID-19 vaccines” throughout the country.

It noted recent reports that vaccines will come later to Canada than to other countries and called for the federal government to “put forward a comprehensive plan for a national immunization program.”

“With other jurisdictions ready to roll out vaccines as early as next month, Ontario and Canada should not be last in line to receive this vaccine,” said Premier Doug Ford. “I'm calling on the prime minister today to provide certainty that the contracts we've signed are rock solid and that Ottawa will provide detailed information to support provincial planning, including when, how much, and what type of each vaccine we’re getting. The sooner we get a vaccine, the sooner we can offer that added protection for our frontline staff and most vulnerable, take pressure off of our hospitals, and begin to return life back to normal.”

The U.S. army has reportedly been working with pharmaceutical manufacturers and shippers to distribute Pfizer vaccines to all U.S. states right after approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which could come as early as Dec. 10.

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