During what participants described as a positive meeting, Canada’s premiers told Prime Minister Justin Trudeau tonight that they have the capacity to vaccinate Canadians faster than they are right now — and they need the federal government to step up its delivery of vaccines to match their quickening pace.
The premiers made their push for more doses in a call with Trudeau earlier tonight that also touched on developments in the new testing regime for international travellers.
Sources have told CBC News that the Quebec government is arguing it can administer more doses in a week that it will receive from the federal government during the entire month of January.
Data released by the provinces show that only about half of the vaccines they’ve received have been administered to Canadians, although the pace of immunization by provincial health agencies is picking up daily.
“We are concerned that as we pick up the pace of inoculation, supply will be inadequate and I’ve heard other premiers express the same concerns,” Alberta Premier Jason Kenney said after the meeting. “I have conveyed to the prime minister, as have my colleagues, the urgency of getting as much supply here as we possibly can.”
New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs said the tone of the call tonight was courteous and all the premiers called for more doses. They also agreed, he said, that the different levels of government have worked well together since the beginning of the pandemic.
“There was some accusations going back and forth earlier in the week and that’s unfortunate, really, because I think we all recognize that the blame game is not going to help anyone here,” Higgs told CBC News Network’s Power & Politics after the meeting.
“The point was that we have to just buckle down and figure out how do we work with what we have and how do we work together to get more,” he added.
Vaccine pace issues
Canada has been outpaced on vaccinations so far by Israel, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, the U.S., the U.K., Denmark, Russia, Italy and Germany, according to data from earlier this week collated by the University of Oxford-based Our World in Data.
“I am confident that the pace of vaccination is going to pick up rapidly and we will be there to support and help the provinces as they get these vaccines out the door,” Trudeau said in an interview with a Whistler, B.C. radio station this morning.
As Higgs noted, Trudeau expressed frustration earlier this week with Canada’s progress on vaccinations.
Government numbers show Canada had received nearly 425,000 doses of the Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines as of Dec. 31. Roughly 195,000 Canadians had received shots as of Wednesday, according to an estimate by a group of academics and data analysts — well below 1 per cent of the country’s population.
Israel, which leads the world in vaccines administered per population, has given at least one dose to 17 per cent of its 9 million people already.
The federal government has taken the lead on procuring doses of COVID-19 vaccines by signing advance agreements with seven vaccine makers and coordinating their delivery, while the provinces and territories are responsible for administering them.
Some provinces acknowledge there have been problems with administering the vaccines — particularly with trying to get the delicate Pfizer-BioNTech product to remote areas.
But many premiers have said the real question in the days and weeks ahead will be whether Ottawa gets vaccines to the provinces quickly enough.
Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe said in a tweet Wednesday he would be be telling Trudeau during the virtual meeting that the number of doses expected to be delivered to his province in January is insufficient.
“[Saskatchewan] is ready to deliver vaccines as quickly and safely as possible, as soon as we receive them,” the tweet said. “The federal [government] is now telling us to expect only 30,000 doses by the end of January. This is not nearly enough, and considerably less than what they had estimated last month.”
A spokesperson for Premier Kenney also accused the federal government of being too slow to deliver doses.
“The truth is that the federal government has been slow to procure vaccine to the provinces, which has resulted in fewer Canadians being vaccinated,” Christine Myatt wrote in an email. “For example, the prime minister went to the media to foreshadow the imminent arrival of the Moderna vaccine in the middle of December, but shipments only arrived in provinces at the very end of the year.”
Ontario ‘running out’ of vaccines, Ford claims
Ontario Premier Doug Ford has repeatedly claimed that Ontario is on the verge of running out of vaccines.
“Every CEO of every hospital, the PHUs, public health units, are going to be running out of vaccines,” Ford told reporters today. “I know the federal government is doing everything it can but we are moving — 15,000 vaccinations yesterday alone — and that’s just going to climb.”
Despite those claims, a spokesperson for the Ontario government told CBC News the province recently received another 48,000 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, for a total of 143,000 doses of that product. The Ontario government’s vaccination website, meanwhile, shows Ontario had administered just 72,631 doses as of Wednesday night.
Maj.-Gen. Dany Fortin, the military commander leading vaccine logistics at the Public Health Agency of Canada, said on Tuesday that Canada will receive 208,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine each week for the next three weeks, while 171,000 Moderna shots are expected to arrive on January 11.
The PMO said Trudeau also planned to bring up with the premiers the situation in long-term care homes, new measures for international travellers at land borders and airports and federal supports for people and businesses facing increasingly tight lockdown restrictions.
Absent from the PMO’s list of priorities was the provinces’ and territories’ demand for an increase in the Canada Health Transfer — something Ford’s office said he planned to raise, despite the fact that the transfer was the main topic of a December First Ministers’ meeting.