Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said today Canada has been warned of manufacturing problems plaguing the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
The viral vector vaccine developed by J&J’s subsidiary, Janssen Pharmaceuticals, was authorized by Health Canada as safe and effective last week.
Canada pre-ordered 10 million doses of the vaccine, which is the first and only one in Canada’s vaccine plan that requires only one dose.
But Trudeau said Canada still doesn’t have a target date for the first deliveries.
“We have heard in many conversations with Johnson & Johnson that there are challenges around production of the Janssen vaccine, but we will continue to engage with them and we look forward to receiving doses as soon as possible,” he said today at a news conference in Ottawa.
“And as soon as we get confirmation of doses being sent to Canada, we will let everyone know.”
Canada’s vaccine rollout stepped up this month after deliveries slowed to a trickle in February. Nearly one million doses of Pfizer-BioNTech and Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccines were delivered last week, and 910,000 doses of Pfizer and Moderna are arriving this week.
It took Canada 67 days to vaccinate the first one million people. It will take less than one-third of that time to vaccinate the second million.
As of noon on Tuesday, more than 1.9 million Canadians have now received at least one dose.
Canada not ready yet to issue guidance on relaxing measures
Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam said Canada isn’t quite ready to follow the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and issue guidance on how vaccinated individuals can relax their public health measures.
The CDC said Monday that those Americans who received their second dose at least two weeks ago can now visit indoors, without masks, with other fully vaccinated people, or with those who are not vaccinated but are at low risk of serious illness.
Tam said there are still too many unknowns, including the effect of COVID-19 variants and how vaccines will affect the spread of the novel coronavirus.
“So I think we need to take a thoughtful approach, but it is important that we have to evolve our public health approach as more Canadians are getting vaccinated,” she said.
The United States is far ahead of Canada, having now vaccinated more than one in four people. Canada has vaccinated about one in 20.
Tam said there are “initial positive signs” that the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are preventing transmission, as well as reducing the severity of illness, but it is still early.
The emergence of variants that aren’t all responding as well to vaccines is also a concern, she said. Tam said Ontario now believes almost one-third of its new cases are one of those variants, with the B.1.1.7 variant first identified in the United Kingdom the most common.
That variant also appears to be the most receptive to the current vaccines.
The number of new cases in Canada has plateaued at about 2,900 cases per day in the last couple of weeks, but the number of people dying appears to be diminishing.
On Feb. 23, Tam reported a one-week average of 2,900 new cases and 54 deaths per day. On March 2, the weekly average was 2,933 cases and 42 deaths. On Tuesday, it was 2,900 new cases per day and 37 deaths.
Newfoundland and Labrador also seems to be recovering from a major outbreak that swept through St. John’s last month. Public health officials reported one new case Tuesday and said active infections are down to 80, from 203 a week ago.
Johnson & Johnson hasn’t even yet confirmed for Canada where its vaccine doses will be made. The company is producing the vaccine in the U.S. and Europe, and Health Canada has authorized facilities in both places to make it.
But neither the company nor Canadian officials will say yet where Canada’s doses will be made. The United States isn’t allowing exports of doses made there until the U.S. is fully served, but that may happen by late May.
Still, J&J’s production problems are affecting Europe and the U.S. as well. Several European countries, where the vaccine isn’t yet authorized, said they don’t expect as many doses of it next month as originally planned.
U.S. President Joe Biden said last week that when he took office, he was informed that Johnson & Johnson was behind on production and efforts began to find additional production space. Sanofi was first contracted to help produce the vaccine in Europe and last week Biden announced Merck would help produce it in the United States.