Canada will only receive about half the number of Pfizer doses it had expected over the next four weeks, forcing provinces to reconsider who is first in line to receive the COVID vaccine.
The country was set to receive about 6 million vaccine doses from both Pfizer and Moderna by the end of Phase 1, in March, CTV reported, which is meant to prioritize health care workers, the elderly in long-term care homes, and Indigenous communities.
But because of shortages caused by construction that is expanding Pfizer’s European manufacturing facility, Canada will come up short. That means those most susceptible to severe COVID-19 outcomes will have to wait longer for their vaccines than initially hoped.
“We will see an average reduction over this timeframe of 50 percent of expected deliveries...The most profound impact will be in the week of January 25,” said Maj. Gen. Dany Fortin, the official in charge of Canada’s vaccine rollout.
Alberta Premier Jason Kenney said the province will run out of vaccine doses that can be administered as a first dose on Tuesday.
“I am deeply disappointed at the situation we are now facing,” Kenney said in a statement. “Alberta currently has the capacity to deliver 50,000 doses per week. In March, we expect to be able to administer about 200,000 doses per week. But we do not have the supply to match.”
He said first dose vaccination appointments are temporarily paused. Kenney added First Nations, Métis, and people over 75 will have to wait to get their first dose, but he did not say for how long.
First Nations communities in Alberta said Kenney’s statement highlights the province’s track record of failing to prioritize them, especially considering Indigenous peoples continue to be hard hit by COVID-19 outbreaks in the province. As of Friday there were 2,066 active COVID-19 cases among them.
"The province continues to make unilateral decisions on First Nations health with questionable First Nation involvement. How many times must it be said that sovereign First Nations must be involved in the decisions that affect them?" Assembly of First Nations Alberta Regional Chief Marlene Poitras told CBC News on Monday.
Manitoba also temporarily paused first dose appointments over the weekend as a way to manage the slowdown in vaccine shipments. “We can expect that over the next four weeks, we're going to have substantial reductions in the amount that is delivered to Manitoba," said Joss Reimer, the doctor in charge of Manitoba’s COVID-19 vaccine task force.
World Health Organization guidelines recommend administering the two doses about three weeks apart. But several Canadian governments that already planned to delay the second dose are considering delaying it further as a way to manage the shortage.
British Columbia had been planning a 35-day gap between the two doses but is now reconsidering.
The shortage will “have some effect, some significant effect, on this stage of the priority one groups that we've laid out over when they get their doses," said Adrian Dix, the province’s health minister. "A contributing factor to that is the discussion of second doses and when they come forward."
In Ontario, the government has already adjusted the recommended gap between the two doses, with people now having to wait up to 42 days to get the second jab.
“There is a risk in this approach,” professor of immunology at the University of Toronto, Dr. Alberto Martin, told Global News. “It’s possible that a large fraction of these individuals will not develop full immunity and thereby waste many of these doses.”
Experts have said minor delays likely won’t affect vaccine efficacy, but the risk increases the longer patients have to wait.
Vaccine rollout in Canada got off to a frustrating start: vaccine doses were sitting idly in freezers and governments had not figured out how and when to administer the second dose.
Officials have not yet provided concrete details about their vaccination campaigns, keeping Canadians in the dark but politicians continue to promise lofty vaccine targets for 2021.
According to CTV, Fortin said he expects the second phase of Canada’s vaccine rollout, beginning in March, to go as planned, even though he couldn’t offer guarantees. Trudeau has also reiterated his promise that all Canadians who want the vaccine will be inoculated by September. The targets depend on Canada securing doses from other companies as well. For now, only the Pfizer and Moderna candidates have been approved.
Canada is still grappling with some of the worst COVID-19 outbreaks since the pandemic began. As of Tuesday morning, the country had confirmed a total of 715,072 COVID-19 cases and 18,120 deaths.
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