Pharmaceutical giant Pfizer-BioNTech has agreed to move up delivery of five million doses of its COVID-19 vaccine to Canada from late summer to June, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced Tuesday.
The accelerated delivery schedule will bring Canada’s total expected doses from 4.6 million to 9.6 million for that month alone, Trudeau told reporters at a press conference in Ottawa.
“Of course, that’s in addition to the other doses of the Moderna and AstraZeneca vaccines that we’ll also get,” Trudeau said. “A lot of doses being delivered means a lot of people who are able to get their shot.”
Altogether, 5,433,359 vaccine doses have been administered in Canada as of March 30, according to Health Canada statistics.
Meanwhile, more than 3.2 million doses are expected to arrive this week alone.
“As we’ve been saying for months, and as we’ve been planning with provinces and territories since last year, the end of March will be followed by an increase in vaccine supply,” Trudeau said.
“We now have handily exceeded our promised target of six million doses delivered before April. And this week, we begin our ramp-up phase.”
Vaccine deliveries ramp-up
Throughout April and May, a million doses a week are scheduled to arrive from Pfizer alone, he added.
Almost half of the doses arriving this week come from a shipment of the AstraZeneca-Oxford COVID-19 vaccine from the United States. The shipment comes one day after Canada’s National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) advised provinces to pause the use of the AstraZeneca-Oxford COVID-19 vaccine on those under the age of 55 because of safety concerns.
German health officials also agreed Tuesday to restrict the use of AstraZeneca’s vaccine in people under 60, amid fresh concern over unusual blood clots reported in a tiny number of those who received the shots.
Procurement Minister Anita Anand said AstraZeneca will ship 4.4 million additional doses of its vaccine by the end of June.
The combination of Pfizer, Moderna and AstraZeneca vaccine orders puts Canada on track to receive at least 44 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines by the end of June, “more than enough” for every Canadian to receive at least one shot, Anand said.
Canada is also expected to begin receiving shipments of the single shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine by the end of April, though the exact schedule of deliveries is still being worked out, Anand said.
Canada has pre-ordered 10 million doses of the vaccine, with options to order up to 28 million more.
This means Canada will be on track to vaccinate every resident by the end of summer.
‘Tip of the iceberg’
Still, Trudeau and Canada’s top doctor, Theresa Tam, urged Canadians not to let their guard down.
COVID-19 activity in Canada has been steadily increasing over several weeks with a rising number and proportion of more contagious variants driving epidemic growth in many parts of the country, Tam said.
“To date over 970,000 cases of COVID-19, including 22,900 deaths, have been reported across Canada,” she said.
The rising number of infections is putting a renewed strain on Canada’s healthcare system, Tam said.
“Over the last week, an average of 2,200 people with COVID-19 were being treated in our hospitals each day, ” Tam said. That represents a 6 per cent increase over the previous week, she added.
Over 660 of these patients were being treated in intensive care units (ICU), which is 14 per cent higher than last week, Tam said
“Most concerning is the continued increase in the number and proportion of variants of concern that spread more easily and increase the risk of severe illness outcomes,” Tam said.
Over the past week, there has been a 64 per cent increase in new variant cases, she said. Over 9,000 cases of variants of concern have been reported across Canada, with the B 1.1.7 variant first reported in the U.K, accounting for over 90 per cent of those cases, she added.
“The variant case numbers represent the tip of the iceberg as there are thousands more cases that have screened positive for problematic mutations,” Tam said.
Trudeau urged Canadians to remain vigilant over the Passover and Easter weekend.
“I know I’ve said the same thing before every major holiday over the past year,” Trudeau said.
“But this time, what’s different is that even if the end of the pandemic is in sight, the variants mean the situation is even more serious. We’re entering the final stretch of this crisis. We just need to stay strong a little longer.”