OTTAWA — Canada's sluggish COVID-19 vaccination efforts are expected to get a big boost starting this week as the federal government prepares for a ramp up in the delivery of shots from Pfizer-BioNTech following a month-long lull.
The Public Health Agency of Canada says it expects the two pharmaceutical companies to deliver more than 400,000 doses this week and another 475,000 following a slowdown as Pfizer expanded a production plant in Belgium.
The health agency says Canada will then receive nearly 450,000 doses per week until the beginning of April, when Pfizer and BioNTech will have fulfilled their contract to deliver 4 million shots by the end of March.
The full schedule was published on the health agency’s website late Sunday, and for the first time calculates the number of doses to be delivered based on six shots per vial rather than the previous five per vial.
“It is encouraging to look ahead with a greater degree of certainty at the number of vaccines we will receive," Maj.-Gen. Dany Fortin, the military commander overseeing Canada's vaccine distribution, said in a statement.
"Based on our planning with the manufacturer, Canada is expected to receive more than three million doses between now and end of March. This shows us that the wheel is definitely turning on the vaccine rollout and Pfizer-BioNTech’s commitment to deliver its four million doses by end of (March).”
The ramp-up in new deliveries starting this week will be welcomed by provinces and territories, which have administered the vast majority of the vaccines that they have received.
They may also ease some of the pressure on the federal Liberal government, which has been accused of mismanaging what amounts to the largest mass-vaccination effort in Canadian history.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau last week acknowledged the struggle with deliveries, but said things will get better in the weeks ahead, and even better than that in April, when Canada is expecting as many as one million doses a week.
"We're approaching something we're calling the big lift," he said Thursday in a virtual roundtable with nurses and doctors from around Canada.
Yet the problems aren't entirely over. Moderna — the other company whose vaccine has been approved for use in Canada so far — has confirmed its next shipment on Feb. 22 will be only 168,000 doses, two-thirds of what had been promised.
Moderna, which delivers once every three weeks, shipped 180,000 doses last week — 80 per cent of the promised amount.
In addition, Pfizer's deliveries will only meet the promised number of doses if medical professionals can adjust to extracting six doses instead of five from every vial.
Getting that sixth dose requires the use of a low dead-volume syringe, which traps less vaccine in the needle and syringe after an injection.
Canada has now ordered 72 million of those syringes, and two million were delivered last week.
Fortin has said those are being shipped to the provinces to be ready for Monday, though no provinces reported receiving any as of Thursday.
Provincial governments are also concerned about how easy it will be to get that sixth dose, even with the special syringes.
To date, Canada has received about 928,000 doses from Pfizer and 515,000 from Moderna.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 15, 2021.
Lee Berthiaume, The Canadian Press