Canada to get first Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine doses before end of December

OTTAWA — Canada’s first vaccinations against COVID-19 could begin happening as early as next week, pending Health Canada approval.

Canada will be receiving an initial batch of up to 249,000 doses of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine before the end of December, with the first shipment expected next week, and could be put into prioritized people’s arms very soon after.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is making the announcement on Parliament Hill, alongside Public Services and Procurement Minister Anita Anand, Deputy Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Howard Njoo, and Maj.-Gen. Dany Fortin.

“The first shipment of doses is tracking for delivery next week. Shipments will continue to arrive into 2021, with millions of doses on the way. This will move us forward on our whole timeline of vaccine rollout, and is a positive development in getting Canadians protected as soon as possible,” said Trudeau.

Fortin said that within one or two days of the shipment arriving in Canada, vaccines could be ready to be administered.

Health Canada has not yet approved the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine candidate for use in this country, though senior officials have signalled that the independent agency is close to completing its efficacy and safety assessment and it could come this week. It began scrutinizing the data from Pfizer’s clinical trials in early October.

The delivery of these doses will be contingent on the vaccine being deemed safe for use in Canada.

The initial doses will arrive in a series of shipments and altogether would be enough to fully vaccinate approximately 125,500 Canadians, as the vaccine requires two needles, weeks apart. It’s possible the government could begin inoculating a larger number with the initial batch as they are anticipating a steady stream of additional doses in the weeks ahead.

They will be the first allotment of what was Canada’s deal for up to 76 million doses from the pharmaceutical giant. Initially, the country is only anticipating receiving up to four million of those doses by March 2021.

The United Kingdom has approved the vaccine for use, and the United States Food and Drug Administration is set to give the pharmaceutical giant’s vaccine the green light to roll out to Americans this week.

Health Canada’s chief medical adviser Dr. Supriya Sharma said last Thursday that the review of Pfizer’s vaccine candidate is progressing “very well” but the agency was awaiting some “key” information coming in the next few days, including quality assurance checks on the specific batches destined for Canada.

Meanwhile, Fortin — who is leading the National Operations Centre within the Public Health Agency of Canada that’s focused on the logistics of the rollout — is leading a “dry run” of the Pfizer rollout, to ensure that there are no kinks in the ultra-cold storage delivery chain, including by the health professionals who will ultimately be handling the shots.

“Pfizer, the Public Health Agency and the provinces are working together to finalize preparations at the first 14 vaccination sites this week. I want to assure Canadians that any vaccine approved in Canada will be safe and effective,” Trudeau said.

The dry run will be used to confirm the ordering, shipping and importation processes, and the initial dry run will use a shipping container with dry ice and a data-logger to simulate a shipment of the vaccine, according to the government.

Fortin’s plan has been to be prepared to deploy the rollout by mid-December, in anticipation of Canada’s vaccine administration effort commencing in January.

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