Canada's Pfizer vaccine shipment delayed by winter weather in the U.S.

·4 min read
A refrigerated truck leaves the Pfizer factory in Puurs, Belgium.
A refrigerated truck leaves the Pfizer factory in Puurs, Belgium.

(Yves Herman/Reuters - image credit)

Harsh winter weather in the U.S. will delay a planned shipment of Pfizer vaccine doses to Canada by at least one day this week, a spokesperson for the pharmaceutical giant told CBC News.

Global shipping company United Parcel Service (UPS) has temporarily shuttered its massive air shipping hub, WorldPort, at Louisville Muhammad Ali International Airport in Kentucky because of a significant buildup of snow and ice.

Pfizer ships vaccine doses from its Puurs, Belgium facility through Louisville on to Canadian destinations by air.

"Unfortunately, the inclement weather in the U.S. has caused a short delay of today's planned delivery," Pfizer spokesperson Christina Antoniou said in an email. "As a result, our delivery scheduled for today will be delayed by one day."

Antoniou said deliveries for Wednesday and Thursday "remain on schedule."

"We are doing everything we can to try and reduce the delay as much as possible and sincerely regret any inconvenience this may have caused," Antoniou said.

This is the first time UPS has ever closed its cargo terminal, which handles more than 400,000 packages every hour.

A blast of wintry weather has plunged large swaths of the U.S. into a deep freeze, producing some of the lowest temperatures ever reported in central and southern states.

In an emailed statement, Health Canada said provinces can now expect their shipments to arrive 24 to 36 hours later than planned because of the UPS weather-related disruptions.

"The National Operations Centre within the Public Health Agency of Canada is currently monitoring the situation with the manufacturer as well as with the United Parcel Service," a spokesperson for the department said.

"Updates to the delivery schedule and quantities are shared daily with the provinces to inform their decisions regarding the vaccination programs under their jurisdiction."

A spokesperson for Ontario's health ministry said deliveries of the Pfizer product will be punted to later in the week because of "a major storm developing in northern U.S./central Canada."

"Pfizer shipments for the week of Feb. 15 will experience a one-day delay from the planned delivery dates. Shipments are now planned to arrive on Wednesday, Feb. 17 and Thursday, Feb. 18," the spokesperson said in an emailed statement.

Maj.-Gen. Dany Fortin, the military commander leading vaccine logistics at the Public Health Agency of Canada, has warned that unpredictable weather events could disrupt vaccine deliveries but insists the country has prepared for all such scenarios.

Anand has said that, after weeks of delays and cancellations, more than 400,000 Pfizer shots will arrive this week to help jump-start Canada's stalled vaccination campaign, and that hundreds of thousands more doses are to be delivered each week for the foreseeable future.

Patrick Semansky/AP Photo
Patrick Semansky/AP Photo

Conservative Leader Erin O'Toole today pressed Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Canada's shaky vaccine rollout in question period in the House of Commons, asking when the country will be able to inoculate 300,000 people a day.

With fewer than 1.5 million doses administered so far, Canada will need to deploy more than 265,000 doses a day over the next 226 days to fully vaccinate 30 million people with a two-dose vaccine regime by the end of September.

Trudeau has said every Canadian who wants a shot will get one by the end of that month — a message he repeated in the Commons today.

He said the country will be in the "big lift" phase of the rollout in the coming weeks, when supply from both Moderna and Pfizer ramps up dramatically.

Beyond the four million Pfizer shots slated to arrive before the end of this quarter, the New York-based company will deliver 10.8 million shots between April and June. That's 2.8 million more shots in this period than the government originally predicted.

"We don't know if we're really going to get all the promised doses. There is still so much uncertainty and we will believe it when we see it," O'Toole said of Trudeau's September promise.

According to the University of Oxford-based Our World in Data, Canada now ranks 41st globally in terms of vaccines administered — well behind allies like the United States and the United Kingdom and some middle-income countries like Turkey and Serbia.

Canada's vaccination effort has been outpaced so far by those in Bahrain, Chile, Denmark, Germany, Greece, Israel, Italy, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovenia, Spain and the United Arab Emirates, among dozens of others.