Procurement Minister Anita Anand says 1.5 million doses of the AstraZeneca-Oxford COVID-19 vaccine on loan from the U.S. will arrive in Canada by truck on Tuesday.
The shipment is the first Canada expects to receive from manufacturing plants in the United States — which has so far ensured that all vaccines produced in the U.S. go to Americans.
At a press conference today, Anand said those doses are part of a surge in vaccine deliveries set to take place over the coming weeks.
“We have said from the beginning that the first quarter of this year would represent a period of increasingly supply as vaccine manufacturers ramped up production, and this would be followed by significant supplies coming to Canada,” Anand said.
“We are now seeing that supply surge and it is set to continue.”
Canada had received just over 6.1 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines from Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna and the Serum Institute of India as of yesterday, according to federal government data.
Pfizer has confirmed it plans to ship at least a million doses per week to Canada from now until the end of May, while Moderna will ship every two weeks, with 855,000 doses of its vaccine shipping to Canada the week of Apr. 5 and 1.2 million doses shipping the week of Apr. 19.
Vaccine supply challenges remain
Despite the projected surge in deliveries, Canada’s vaccine supply continues to experience major challenges — even as health officials warn that COVID-19 case counts are set to rise rapidly in the coming weeks as virus variants take hold.
The AstraZeneca doses arriving from the U.S. were manufactured in facilities that haven’t yet received Health Canada approval. Dr. Supriya Sharma, Health Canada’s chief medical adviser, said yesterday the doses will need to be stored until the regulator completes a regulatory review.
And a shipment of 590,400 Moderna doses that was supposed to arrive Saturday has been delayed by a backlog in the company’s quality assurance process.
Anand said she was assured in a conversation with Moderna executives that the delay is not related to new European Union export restrictions meant to address vaccine supply shortages on the continent. She said the delayed shipment has been approved already for export and will arrive “a few days later.”
“We are closely monitoring the global environment, including export restrictions in a number of jurisdictions,” said Anand. “Given the profound period of global demand for vaccine, there will continue to be bumps along the way and we will continue to work every day to ensure that vaccines arrive in this country.”
Meanwhile, the fate of 1.5 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine made by the Serum Institute of India bound for Canada is uncertain, after India reportedly placed a temporary hold on all major vaccine exports to allow it to meet domestic demand.
While Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said earlier this week he’s seen nothing to indicate that April and May deliveries to Canada will be affected, India’s deputy high commissioner in Canada said the delivery schedule “remains under discussion.”
And despite being approved three weeks ago by Health Canada, Johnson & Johnson still hasn’t confirmed delivery dates for the any of the 10 million doses of its one-shot vaccine that Canada has ordered.
Ford criticizes Ottawa on vaccine supply
At a press conference Friday, Ontario Premier Doug Ford criticized Ottawa for not supplying enough vaccines to the provinces and territories. Ford has mostly avoided attacking the federal government directly on the topic of vaccine supply, even as other conservative leaders — including Alberta Premier Jason Kenney and Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe — have done so regularly.
“I have been very diplomatic and I’ve been very complimentary and collaborative with the federal government [but] enough’s enough. This is becoming a joke,” said Ford. “We need more vaccines.”
Ford said pharmacies in the province have tens of thousands of appointments booked but are running out of doses.
Data that Ontario’s Ministry of Health shared with CBC News late Friday evening show the province has received 2.35 million doses from the federal government, and has administered 1.83 million doses.
The ministry said Ontario has the capacity to administer 150,000 doses per day. Slightly less than 83,000 doses were administered in the province yesterday.
According to a vaccine tracker maintained by CBC News, Canada is behind 34 countries in terms of the percentage of the population that has received at least one dose of vaccine.
The tracker, which only includes countries that report vaccine data publicly, shows that 10.73 per cent of Canadians have received one dose, while only 1.7 per cent have been fully vaccinated.
The opposition Conservatives led off question period today by pressing the government on vaccine deliveries.
Conservative MP Gérard Deltell cited the delay of Canada’s Moderna shipment and the uncertainty created by export restrictions in the EU and India.
“Canada needs vaccines, so why are there delays?” asked Deltell in French.
Liberal MP Steve MacKinnon responded by saying the government was proud to meet its original target of 6 million vaccine doses delivered before the end of March. MacKinnon added that another 3 million doses are expected to arrive next week.
“We are determined to continue our momentum forward with regard to vaccine imports and supply for all Canadians,” MacKinnon said.