Conservative Leader Erin O'Toole said today the federal government needs to find more shots this month so that every adult can get a COVID-19 vaccine dose by Victoria Day — May 24.
While Pfizer is poised to substantially ramp up deliveries of its product over the next five weeks — it's expected to deliver more than two million doses per week — O'Toole said Ottawa must procure even more doses in the coming weeks to ensure Canadians can have a more normal summer.
Based on a review of the existing delivery schedule and population data by CBC News, there should be enough shots on hand in Canada to give everyone over the age of 30 at least one vaccine dose by early June.
Shortly after O'Toole called on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to procure more shots, Ontario and Quebec announced that, based on existing delivery estimates, all people 18 and over in those provinces will be able to book a first-dose appointment by May 24, with actual immunizations to follow one to two weeks later, depending on demand.
Asked how Canada could acquire more of the hottest commodities on the planet in such a short time, O'Toole said the prime minister should ask U.S. President Joe Biden to send a large part of America's AstraZeneca vaccine stockpile over the border.
"We are their NORAD, NATO, longstanding neighbours, allies, great partners. Our economies are directly integrated. We need the prime minister to fight for those vaccines so we can help move past this health crisis," O'Toole told a press conference.
U.S. could offer more shots
Trudeau has talked about the possibility of Biden sending some shots north. Public Services and Procurement Minister Anita Anand has asked Biden's COVID-10 vaccine czar, Jeffrey Zients, to make some of the AstraZeneca available to Canadians.
Biden himself has said he's committed to helping Canada and countries in central America, once the U.S.-made AstraZeneca shots clear a safety inspection by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
"We do not need to use AstraZeneca in our fight against COVID-19 in the next few months," the president's press secretary, Jen Psaki, told a media briefing Monday.
"I anticipate in the near future we'll share more details about our planning and who will receive more doses from here."
AstraZeneca has been manufacturing its product at a Maryland plant for months to fulfil its contract with the U.S. government.
But the FDA has not yet authorized the product for use in the American marketplace and many millions of vials are gathering dust.
Describing it as a "loan", the Biden administration has sent 1.5 million AstraZeneca doses to Canada already. That delivery helped many Canadians under the age of 60 get a shot this month.
"There are doses available. Let's have some urgency. Let's lead, prime minister," O'Toole said.
Biden has not yet rescinded an executive order issued by former president Donald Trump that all but forbids the export of U.S.-made shots to other countries. The White House has developed a work-around for AstraZeneca by lending doses to countries that were already expecting deliveries of the AstraZeneca vaccine.
Later in question period, O'Toole said Canada has been badly outpaced by the U.S. in the number of doses administered. While 30 per cent of the U.S. population is now fully vaccinated, fewer than 3 per cent are in Canada — a disparity largely explained by the 16-week interval between first and second doses in this country.
Americans are beginning to return to normal, O'Toole said, while many Canadians are still living through lockdowns.
The federal government's failure to procure more vaccine supply in the first three months of this year has resulted in a "devastating third wave," O'Toole said.
Public Services and Procurement Minister Anita Anand said vaccine supplies were shaky in January and February as manufacturers fine-tuned their operations to pump out millions of shots. Supply has now stabilized and "we're third in the G20 for cumulative doses administered," Anand said of Canada's compared to other wealthy and industrialized nations.
O'Toole blames the government for 16-week wait between shots
O'Toole also questioned the science behind the policy of waiting 16 weeks between first and second doses.
The party tabled a motion in the Commons today that condemns "the government" for extending the time between shots.
In fact, it was the National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI), an independent body composed of volunteer experts, that suggested the length of time between shots be spaced out to allow more Canadians to get at least one dose while supplies are limited.
Pointing to early data from researchers in B.C. and Quebec that suggest the vaccines are highly effective after a single dose, NACI said it was its "strong recommendation" that jurisdictions hold off on second shots to get more first doses into arms.
"Emerging evidence of the protection provided by the first dose of a two-dose series for COVID-19 vaccines currently authorized in Canada, NACI recommends that in the context of limited COVID-19 vaccine supply and ongoing pandemic disease, jurisdictions should maximize the number of individuals benefiting from the first dose of vaccine by extending the second dose of COVID-19 vaccine up to four months after the first," the committee said in its report.
WATCH: NACI recommends provinces delay second COVID-19 vaccine dose
While NACI makes recommendations, it's ultimately up to the provinces and territories to decide how they use the vaccine shots — and how long an interval they require between doses.
The federal government does not dictate the interval between shots and is not directly involved in the administration of doses outside of Correction Service Canada (CSC) facilities, the Canadian Armed Forces and other limited settings.
Asked if he was comfortable with this "inaccuracy" in the motion, O'Toole replied "absolutely" — and added that Trudeau ultimately was to blame for the interval because his government failed to procure enough doses.
He said Pfizer itself put out a statement recently distancing itself from Canada's decision to extend the dosing interval.
"He has ignored the manufacturers of the vaccines when he stretched the dosing cycle to such an extreme limit. It's off-label usage, in many ways," he said.
In a March 23 statement, Pfizer said its phase 3 clinical trial study was "designed to evaluate the vaccine's safety and efficacy following a 2-dose schedule, separated by 21 days.
"The safety and efficacy of the vaccine has not been evaluated on different dosing schedules as the majority of trial participants received the second dose within the window specified in the study design."