Moderna is facing a persistent “quality assurance” backlog at its production facilities — a roadblock that has resulted in days-long delivery delays for doses destined for Canada, the military commander leading vaccine logistics said today.
There aren’t any production issues with the shots themselves but the process of double-checking each batch — and then getting them out the door — has been slower than expected, said Maj.-Gen. Dany Fortin.
The manufacturer is also shifting from delivering doses on a three-week basis to a more frequent biweekly schedule, which has resulted in some unplanned logistical challenges.
Unlike the arrangements for the Pfizer product, the federal government itself is responsible for picking up the doses from Moderna plants in Europe and distributing them to the provinces and territories.
The 855,000 doses of the Moderna product that were supposed to arrive the week of April 5 have started to show up only over the last several days, Fortin said — a disruption that upended planned immunization clinics in some provinces. This week, for example, some 10,000 appointments in Ontario were cancelled.
“It might have been challenging for provinces as they had to rejig their schedule,” Fortin said.
The 1.2 million doses that were slated to arrive in Canada next week are now not expected until later this month, possibly as late as the first week of May, Fortin said.
He said the government is hoping the shots can be picked up “early to mid-week” next week, but that’s not confirmed yet.
Provinces caught unprepared by delivery delays
Fortin said that, moving forward, the government is working on “narrowing down” the delivery windows to give provinces more certainty.
“We’re fully aware that the provinces are making adjustments and we’re trying to narrow this down as much as possible, so they don’t find themselves in situations where they have to constantly react to perceived delays,” Fortin said.
“We’re issuing as clear as possible a window for provinces and territories to plan their immunization campaign.”
A spokesperson for Ontario Premier Doug Ford said that “while we know the federal government is working very hard to get us supply,” the recurring Moderna delays have had a “significant impact on our ability to fulfil vaccine appointments.”
“That’s why we continue to see sites pausing operations and rescheduling vaccinations. The more consistent supply we have, the faster we will be able to accelerate our rollout and get needles into the arms of Ontarians,” the spokesperson said.
Fortin said provinces can avoid disappointing would-be vaccine recipients by announcing appointment dates only after the Moderna doses have arrived, when there’s a reasonable degree of certainty that the shots are ready for deployment.
Nova Scotia, for example, has taken a more cautious approach by only booking appointments once the Moderna supply is on hand.
“That is one way to do it,” Fortin said.
While delays are expected this month, Fortin said there will be a steady supply of the highly effective vaccine arriving in May. Another 2.8 million Moderna doses will arrive in that month in two shipments, with millions more expected in June.
Meanwhile, a little more than one million Pfizer doses will continue to arrive each week until the end of May. Shipments are then expected to ramp up to two million shots a week starting in June.
AstraZeneca shots — produced by the company itself, the Covax vaccine-sharing facility and the Serum Institute of India — will arrive more sporadically, with at least one million of those shots arriving sometime in June.
The one-shot vaccine from Johnson & Johnson will start arriving at the end of April, but delivery timelines have not yet been finalized with the manufacturer, a spokesperson for Public Services and Procurement Canada said.