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Vaccine delivery to provinces picking up speed, say federal officials

Friday, February 26, 2021 @ 10:56 AM | By Terry Davidson

Ottawa is ramping up its distribution of COVID-19 vaccines to the provinces and territories, with this week having marked what officials say is Ottawa’s largest delivery to date.

On Feb. 25, federal deputy chief public health officer Dr. Howard Njoo and Maj.-Gen. Dany Fortin, vice president of logistics and operations for the vaccine rollout, gave an update on vaccine distribution.

Fortin said that, to date, nearly 2.5 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines have been delivered to the provinces and territories.

“This week alone, Canada saw its largest amount so far, with 643,000 doses distributed across the country,” he said. “Starting next week, we anticipate having 444,000 doses weekly in March. By the end of this quarter, we’ll have distributed four million doses of Pfizer-BioNTech. This is all good news for Canadians who are hoping to get vaccinated.”

Fortin said they now have “visibility on expected shipments of Pfizer-BioNTech into the first week of April.”

“Based on discussions with the manufacturer, we anticipate to receive approximately 769,000 doses of vaccines a week, for the first two weeks in April. In total, we’re expected to receive over 10 million doses between April and June from Pfizer-BioNTech.”

Fortin went on to say that Moderna has confirmed 466,000 doses of its vaccine will be delivered to Canada the week of March 8 and another shipment of that same amount the week of March 22.

Fortin said Moderna “will round out [its] first-quarter commitment of two million doses,” adding the government is still talking with the drug maker to confirm exact dates for their second-quarter shipment.

He also said the coming spring will prompt a “ramp-up phase” in the rollout.  

“We’ve been closely planning with provinces and territories to be able to provide support to their immunization strategies and align the logistical service provider with the distribution needs,” he said.

During questions from reporters, Fortin was asked for specifics around how Ottawa is helping provinces prepare their respective rollouts. He was also asked about Ontario, specifically, where the government has faced criticism for being relatively slow in laying out its vaccination plans.

It was recently reported Ontario’s government is launching a website and telephone hotline March 15 for booking vaccinations and had established staggered vaccination timelines for those 60 and older for the months of April, May and June.

Manitoba has reportedly started vaccinating the general population, while other provinces, such as Nova Scotia, have already laid out their own rollout strategies; the Northwest Territories has vaccinated as much as 42 per cent of its adult population since its rollout began at the start of this year.

“Provinces are at different levels of readiness in their plans,” said Fortin. “Our job here … is to set favourable conditions for the provinces and territories, to optimize their plans. … What we work on [is] establishing a distribution network that is pretty solid now. We have all the mechanisms in place for ordering and distributing. … The best way we can support them is to give them predictability on the number of vaccines they expect to see and when.”

Njoo talked of those Canadians who have already received their shots.

As of Feb. 25, Njoo said, more than 1.5 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine had been shot into the arms of Canadians, meaning that almost three  per cent of the population had received at least one dose, and that 1.1 per cent had received two.

Njoo also said more than 40 per cent of seniors over the age of 80 had received at least one dose, and that 5.5 percent had received their second.

“A promising sign that those most vulnerable to COVID-19 are being protected against infection,” said Njoo, adding that shared research indicates “the vaccines … approved for use in Canada are highly effective at preventing illness.”

But Njoo tempered his optimism by stressing that COVID-19 and its emerging variants remain “a serious threat.”

“New … variants are unpredictable and can spread at a worrying pace. I realize I’m saying this as provinces and territories are reopening. And that is my point: Just because we are now allowed to resume activities — like going to the gym or a pub — doesn’t necessarily mean we should. Determine what you need to do and assess your risk.”

Njoo was asked what advice he would give to those who have received their first shot or their second shot of vaccine and wanting to resume normal life.

He said good results notwithstanding, there are still some unknows when it comes to the vaccines.

“People around the world — the researchers, the experts — are looking at the evidence in terms of how well … the vaccines protect against asymptomatic infection, as well as transmission,” he said. “The evidence is coming in. Some is promising, some also gives us pause to say, even if you are vaccinated, you may have a certain level of protection for yourself in terms of not getting severe disease, but people should understand that in terms of whether you could still transmit to others, that’s still  a bit of an open question. So, I think, in many ways, life won’t get back to normal, the way we understood it, even for those people who have received the two doses of vaccine. I think … it is probably straightforward and safer to … say, yes, let’s continue to practise the good public health measures.”

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