Despite current shortages, government insists all Canadians will get COVID vaccine by September

© Provided by National Post Maj.-Gen. Dany Fortin: “We expect a rapid scale up with deliveries in upcoming weeks following this current supply disruption.”

OTTAWA – Despite recent delivery problems and pending approvals, the government put out a new estimate Thursday insisting all Canadians who want one will have a COVID-19 vaccine by the end of September.

Last week, Pfizer revealed it would be slowing shipments to Canada and across Europe as its factory in Belgium retools to ultimately produce more doses. Maj.-Gen. Dany Fortin, who is overseeing the federal rollout, said Canada now expects no vaccines next week and just 79,000 doses in the first week of February.

Before Pfizer’s slowdown was announced the government expected to receive 367,000 doses in the first week of February, part of a gradual ramp up so the company can meet its commitment of providing four million doses by the end of March.

He said the decline in the number of doses will mean an uneven distribution to some provinces, but he said the government will correct that when supplies return.

“On the aggregate, it’s pretty severe to some of the provinces and we’ll work to rectify that the minute we have the next shipment.”

Dr. Howard Njoo, Canada’s deputy chief public health officer, said the government has received assurances from Pfizer that they will meet that four million target.

“We are still on track to receive the four million doses of this vaccine that we were expecting by the end of this quarter.”

The government’s projections released Thursday, show that with Pfizer and Moderna alone, the country should have enough vaccines to inoculate 36 million Canadians before the end of September.

The projections estimate those two vaccines could fully vaccinate 13 million Canadians by June with the remaining coming over the summer months. If other candidates are approved, the government estimates as many as 23 million people could be approved by then.

If all the vaccines are approved, the government could have enough doses to get to 73 million people, nearly double the country’s population, but that estimate is a best-case scenario.

It includes two vaccines, AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson’s candidates, that are in regulatory review with Health Canada but are not yet approved. It also includes three other vaccines Canada has ordered, but where the companies have not yet moved into the regulatory review process.

Sanofi, one of those candidates, has yet to even begin its final phase of clinical trials.

Canada has approximately 38 million people, though nearly seven million of those people are under the age of 16 and can’t currently receive either Pfizer or Moderna’s candidate. Assuming every Canadian wanted the vaccine that would leave roughly 31 million people who need two doses, but public opinion surveys  indicate between 10 and 15 per cent of people plan to refuse the vaccine.

Njoo said the most important takeaway from the government’s schedule is that even without additional approvals Canadians will be protected from the virus by September.

“We’ve got two approved vaccines, and if everything goes according to schedule in terms of the number of doses we anticipate receiving, we should be able to offer all Canadians vaccinations by the end of September.”

© Justin Tang/The Canadian Press/File Deputy Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Howard Njoo.

Fortin said the government included the unapproved vaccines to ensure it is ready for whatever happens.

“It’s prudent planning on our part, to factor those in and look at the different scenarios.”

Pfizer has said the changes at its plant will allow it to ship up to two billion doses this year, from its initial projection of 1.3 billion. Fortin said Pfizer has insisted the current reductions will be temporary.

“We expect a rapid scale up with deliveries in upcoming weeks following this current supply disruption.”

For Pfizer to meet its first target of four million doses, it will have to deliver nearly three million doses between when it ramps production back up in a few weeks and the end of March, with the additional Moderna doses expected in that time frame, provinces could face a sudden surge of doses.

Fortin said they’re giving provinces as much information as possible to ensure they’re ready to deal with the surge when those deliveries pick up.

“Last week, we provided the provinces and territories with planning allocation forecasts for this timeframe, including high, low and medium range supply vaccine estimates.”