Vaccine deliveries could be less than expected next month, new logistics commander says

·5 min read
Empty vials of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine are shown during a vaccine campaign near Munich, Germany, on Saturday. Brig.-Gen. Krista Brodie says Canada is expected to receive around 40 million vaccine doses by the end of June, less than the 48 to 50 million doses promised by the federal government. (Matthias Schrader/AP Photo - image credit)
Empty vials of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine are shown during a vaccine campaign near Munich, Germany, on Saturday. Brig.-Gen. Krista Brodie says Canada is expected to receive around 40 million vaccine doses by the end of June, less than the 48 to 50 million doses promised by the federal government. (Matthias Schrader/AP Photo - image credit)

The military commander leading vaccine logistics says the immunization campaign has hit its stride with millions of doses arriving each week, but she provided new figures Thursday that suggest shipments next month could be substantially lower than originally planned.

In her first news conference since assuming command of the Public Health Agency of Canada's vaccine rollout, Brig.-Gen. Krista Brodie said Canada is expected to receive around 40 million vaccine doses by the end of June.

That is less than the 48 to 50 million doses that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Public Services and Procurement Minister Anita Anand have repeatedly said will arrive in the first six months of this year.

Last month, during a COVID-19 briefing, Trudeau said "despite the temporary and short-term fluctuations in deliveries from our suppliers," Canada would receive "between 48 to 50 million doses of vaccine by the end of June."

In question period on April 22, Anand told the House of Commons that, with Pfizer deliveries ramping up significantly, more doses would be on hand than originally forecast.

"That is going to lead us to the larger part of between 48 million and 50 million doses by the end of June. That is transparency. We are saying it now, and we will continue to bring vaccines into Canada for all Canadians," Anand said.

'A significant milestone,' but fewer than promised

Now, Brodie said, the number of doses to be delivered will be "around the 40 million point, maybe slightly lower, slightly higher," because of ongoing delays with shipments from Moderna.

"We are on track to deliver more than 40 million doses to provinces and territories by the end of June. It is a significant milestone," Brodie said. She later said it would be "up to 40 million doses" by the end of next month.

WATCH: Officials say 40 million COVID-19 doses should be in Canada by end of June

Joelle Paquette, the director general responsible for vaccine procurement at Public Services and Procurement Canada, said the government "continues to work with Moderna on a delivery calendar."

"Our objective is to get as many doses as possible as quickly as possible, so we have been working with them to get some doses from their global logistics chain," she said.

"We will be able to provide further details once we have better confirmation of their delivery capacity on a weekly basis — or when we know the next delivery arrives."

Asked if this will have an impact on any planned vaccinations, Brodie said it's a question for the provinces.

"Provinces and territories can speak to their own capacities to scale up their administration capacity. From a distribution perspective, we're really focused on distributing as many vaccines as we have," she said.

Dr. Howard Njoo, Canada's deputy chief public health officer, said just how many shots the provinces can distribute "changes week to week as more doses roll in. The provinces and territories continue to enhance their capacity."

Moderna delays have upended planned immunization clinics in the past. Last month, for example, some 10,000 appointments in Ontario were cancelled because there weren't enough shots after the company slashed planned deliveries in half.

A federal official, speaking on background to CBC News, said they don't anticipate provinces will have to make any adjustments to appointments that have already been booked.

"They have only been provided with information on confirmed shipments, and none of that information has changed," the official said.

Workers unload a shipment of the Moderna COVID‑19 vaccine at the FedEx hub at Pearson International Airport in Toronto on Thursday, May 20, 2021.
Workers unload a shipment of the Moderna COVID‑19 vaccine at the FedEx hub at Pearson International Airport in Toronto on Thursday, May 20, 2021.(Cole Burston/Canadian Press)

The mRNA shot from the Massachusetts-based company is the second-most frequently used COVID-19 vaccine product in Canada.

The company, which had never previously brought a drug to market, has had trouble meeting insatiable global demand for its product.

While Canada was among the first countries to sign a procurement deal with Moderna, the company has had to cancel shipments or punt deliveries to a later date as it struggles with production issues.

Because the U.S. government invested heavily in the early research and development of this product, Moderna had to send a certain number of doses to the American marketplace, an obligation that has resulted in reduced shipments to other countries.

The company, which has few facilities on its own, is reliant on third-party finish-and-fill companies to churn out its product and ship it overseas. There have been delays in the quality-assurance process because of a shortage of skilled labour in Europe.

The company was expected to send some 12.3 million doses to Canada by the end of June, for a total of 14.3 million shots in the first six months of this year.

Earlier signs of problems

There had already been early signs that the company might not hit that target.

Speaking to reporters late last month, Maj.-Gen Dany Fortin, the military commander who was in charge of vaccine logistics before he was abruptly removed, said Moderna will come "as close as possible" to the number of doses it initially promised to deliver in the April-through-June period.

When asked Thursday if the company was still on track to deliver those 12.3 million doses, a spokesperson for Moderna told CBC News the company is in close contact with the federal government.

"Moderna continues to scale up vaccine manufacturing and remains fully focused on delivering vaccines to customers in Canada and around the world," said Patricia Gauthier, the general manager for Moderna's Canadian operations.

Canada has ordered a total of 44 million doses from the company; it is not yet known when the approximately 30 million shots on order that remain will arrive.

WATCH: Brig.-Gen. Krista Brodie and Dr. Howard Njoo on status of AstraZeneca in Canada