No Pfizer BioNTech vaccine doses to be shipped to Canada next week: Fortin

Maj.-Gen. Dany Fortin, the Canadian military commander co-ordinating the COVID-19 vaccine rollout for the Public Health Agency of Canada, said Tuesday that Canada will now be getting 82 per cent of its expected doses this week, and nothing at all the week of Jan. 25.

“Our entire shipment is deferred,” said Fortin.

Despite news, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was reassuring Canadians that the halt in shipments will not affect long term vaccination goals.

“I can assure you that Minister Anand (Anita Anand, minister of public services and procurement) is talking almost daily with Pfizer and the other vaccine companies to ensure that we get as many doses as possible as quickly as possible and that work will continue,” Trudeau said.

“We will not rest, we will not slow down until we get as many Canadians vaccinated as quickly as we possibly can.”

U.S. drugmaker Pfizer told Canada Friday it was cutting its deliveries in half over the next four weeks, as it slows production at its facility in Belgium for upgrades that will eventually allow it to produce more doses overall.

Canada was to get 417,000 doses over the next two weeks, and will now get around 171,000.

Fortin said Canada’s shipments will “pick back up again” the first week of February but said he doesn’t expect specific details until Thursday.

Distributions are done in multiple trays of 975 doses.

“Provinces that were expected to receive one tray receive none. Those that are receiving two, if you cut, will receive one and so on and so forth. So the impact will be felt more in some jurisdictions to the overall number being different from one province to the next.”

Pfizer is producing its vaccine in Michigan and Belgium, but the ones made in the U.S. are only being shipped within that country. Every other country, including Canada, is getting its doses from the European facility.

While there are some signs the relentless second wave of the pandemic may finally be easing in the biggest provinces, with numbers trending down in Quebec and Ontario, Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam said the number of people in hospital and critical care is still rising.

Canada also passed 18,000 deaths on Monday.

More than half a million people have now been vaccinated with at least one dose. Both vaccines require two doses for full effectiveness.

Tam said as the infections go up and down, Canadians are constantly being hit with the reality that our “actions have consequences.”

“Every time we get a little too tired, or a little too excited about holidays or think that vaccines could give us a quick shortcut we are met with a new spike in activity as COVID-19 tries to take the lead again,” Tam told a news conference Tuesday.

Tam added that there is a chance that vaccinated individuals could still transmit the virus to others and the new virus variants mean more of the population needs to be vaccinated.

“To achieve population protection or herd immunity is expected to be probably somewhere closer to sixty, seventy per cent,” Tam said. “Now having said that, if you have virus variants more transmissible you may actually have to have more vaccine coverage to achieve population immunity.

“So that’s why we’re conscious of the spread of these more transmissible variants.”

Quebec and Ontario both reported significant declines in cases Tuesday, with Quebec at 1,386 new cases and Ontario at below 2,000 for the first time in weeks. Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott cautioned a technical glitch likely undercounted new cases in Toronto.

Manitoba, which recorded 111 new cases, is also looking at easing restrictions on gatherings and businesses by the end of the week, including allowing non-essential stores and hair salons to reopen for the first time since mid-November.

Canada has received about 600,000 doses from Pfizer and another 176,000 of a different vaccine from Moderna.

Meanwhile, Trudeau urged Canadians to cancel near-future plans for international trips.

Trudeau said Canadians have the right to travel but the government could at any time, and without warning, enforce new restrictions on travellers returning to Canada.

New variants of the virus that causes COVID-19 add a level of uncertainty that could affect decisions about how to handle international arrivals. Potentially worrisome variants have been detected in the U.K., South Africa and Brazil.

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