After quickly approving a vaccine and getting an early start to inoculations, Canadians worry as the country falls behind in vaccinations.
OTTAWA — Canada seemed to be off to a quick start. Its regulator had approved a coronavirus vaccine codeveloped by Pfizer just ahead of the United States, and national newscasts were soon filled with images of people getting their first injections.
But the hopes raised by the vaccination launch in December — buoyed, too, by news that Canada had ordered doses equal to 10 times its population — have soured. Production issues at Pfizer and Moderna, makers of the only two vaccines currently approved in Canada, have led to reduced shipments — including some weeks in which no vaccine has arrived at all.
But while the disruptions have become the talk of the nation, more fundamental factors involving Canada’s strategic decisions and its production realities have always meant that the launch of vaccinations would be more of a test run than a full-on rollout.
Even if Canada gets back on schedule, this nation of 37.5 million people is expected to receive just six million doses by the end of next month. To date, only about 1.5 million people have been injected.
Updates of a global ranking of vaccinations now receive nearly as much attention as hockey scores in the Canadian media. As Britain and even the United States, despite its problems, continue to rise in the rankings, Canada has dropped well down the list, sandwiched this week between Bangladesh and Romania.
The nation’s vaccine anxiety has, according to polls, led to a drop in approval ratings for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s performance during the pandemic. Nearly 60 percent of Canadians think the country should be performing better or at least as well as other industrialized nations, one poll found.
It’s also prompted sometimes heated criticism from the Conservative opposition in Parliament and from several provincial premiers whose governments are responsible for sticking needles into arms.
“While the world is vaccinating by the millions, the government can only deliver a few thousand,” Erin O’Toole, the Conservative leader, said in Parliament on Tuesday. “Where is the plan to get vaccines into the arms of Canadians?”
Mr. Trudeau, while acknowledging the impatience, has tried to offer assurances.
“People are worried, people are tired of this pandemic,” he said at a news conference last week. “There’s a lot of anxiety, and there’s a lot of noise going on right now. That’s why I want to reassure Canadians that we are on track.”
Canada has not been alone. Short shipments of vaccines have also led to tensions in Europe and other parts of the world
The pressure on Mr. Trudeau may begin to ease. After slowing and briefly cutting off shipments to Canada while it modified a factory in Belgium to increase production, Pfizer sent its largest shipment of vaccine so far to Canada this week. Part of that shipment, however, was delayed by severe weather as it transited through the United States.
While the prime minister has said that Pfizer’s renewed deliveries will allow Canada to hit its target of six million doses by the end of March, that still means the overwhelming majority of Canadians will still be waiting, probably well into summer, for their shots.
Vaccine and infection control specialists say that Canada’s start was always going to be sluggish because of several key factors, notably its decision last year to spread its 414 million orders among seven different companies to reduce risk rather than bet on a single vaccine in exchange for early delivery. Only two of those companies have vaccines approved for use in Canada so far.
And Canada faces inherent disadvantages, too: primarily the lack of an established vaccine producer headquartered in the country and its relatively limited production capacity to make the vaccines developed by foreign companies.
Experts said that the short or delayed shipments so far should not have surprised anyone.
“There’s never been a vaccine rollout where there weren’t shortages because of issues around working the bugs out of the manufacturing,” said Dr. Scott Halperin, a professor of medicine at Dalhousie University in Halifax and the medical director of the Canadian Center for Vaccinology. “So anybody who didn’t anticipate that there’d be some hiccups in the manufacturing process just wasn’t aware of the past.”
Dr. David N. Fisman, a professor of epidemiology at the University of Toronto’s Dalla Lana School of Public Health, attributed the national hand-wringing to another factor.
“It looks more like we’ve gotten what we had been expecting, with occasional hiccups,” he said. “So I think most of the sound and fury really relates to just political point scoring. Is there anything the federal government realistically could have done to have received more vaccine earlier and magically stopped those hiccups?”
Doug Ford, Ontario’s conservative premier, proposed one answer, though its political viability has been questioned. During a news conference last month he urged President Biden to send Canada one million doses of vaccine from a Pfizer factory in Michigan that’s within driving distance of the international border.
“Our American friends, help us out,” said Mr. Ford, who has avoided criticizing Mr. Trudeau. “You have a new president, no more excuses.”
Under Canada’s system, the provinces are responsible for running health care systems, including performing vaccinations, while the federal government regulates vaccines and drugs and negotiates prices. With the pandemic, Mr. Trudeau also took on responsibility for buying the country’s vaccine stockpile.
Brian Pallister, the premier of Manitoba, broke with that program last week and announced that his province will spend 36 million Canadian dollars to buy vaccines from a small company in Calgary, Alberta, that switched from developing a vaccine for cancer to the coronavirus.
“I just want a Canadian home field advantage,” Mr. Pallister, said as he called on other premiers to join him in “building a Canadian-made solution, not just for today but for tomorrow.”
But vaccine from the Calgary company, Providence Therapeutics, won’t speed up inoculation rates any time soon. The company, which has asked Mr. Trudeau’s government for financial aid, began the first phase of human trials for its vaccine only in late January.
Assuming its vaccine is approved, Providence expects to begin production late this year or early next year — long after Mr. Trudeau’s September target to vaccinate all Canadians.
Because Canada has released little information about its vaccine contracts, Mahesh Nagarajan, a professor at the Sauder School of Business at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, said it’s impossible to determine if anything could have been done to speed deliveries.
But Dr. Nagarajan said the country’s relatively small population and its lack of membership in a trade bloc like the European Union put it in a comparatively weak negotiating position.
“When production is done in other places and when resources are scarce, you cannot simply assume people are going to ship things out,” said Dr. Nagarajan, adding that provincial efficiency in administering vaccines will probably determine whether Mr. Trudeau’s September target can be met.
Dr. Fisman said he is optimistic that Canada “will be awash in vaccine supply by summer.” Until then, he had some advice for Canadians.
“Folks need to take a few deep breaths and get through March and April,” he said. “I think we’re actually in an OK place.”
COVID-19 vaccine pilot project coming to some Ontario pharmacies – CTV Toronto
Ontario pharmacists will soon be able to administer the COVID-19 vaccine after the Ford government signed an agreement to harness the reach of 4,600 pharmacies across the province.
The Ontario Pharmacists Association said a pilot project will be launched in Toronto, Kingston and Windsor-Essex next week to test run the distribution, storage, booking and administration systems, before the program is scaled up in the coming weeks.
At its peak the association says pharmacists and pharmacy technicians will be able to administer 46 vaccines per day, with a total of one million vaccines per week, using a yearly flu vaccination campaign as a blueprint.
“This is going to be an all hands on deck scenario,” the association’s president, Justin Bates, told CTV News Toronto
The association has been running table top exercises with the provincial vaccine distribution taskforce and is working to pinpoint which pharmacies will be involved in the pilot project with the aim of “putting shots in arms next week.”
“Over the next two weeks, you’re going to start to see that there’s a refined plan for three public health units,” Bates said. “We’re going to start there with a limited amount of vaccine that’s available and then scale up.”
The Ford government has indicated that community pharmacies will be an integral part of the vaccine distribution system, and suggested that the highly-portable AstraZeneca vaccine will be administered at local pharmacies.
Bates noted, however, that pharmacies will “utilize their own booking system” to take appointments for first and second doses, building on the existing appointment software pharmacy chains use every year.
“The pharmacies will use their own booking system, is what we’ve been told. And they [the province] are looking into those options to have that flexibility,” Bates said.
That raises questions about the multitude of vaccination portals available to the public and the potential overlap between them.
Critics of the Ford government have raised concerns about public heath units being forced to transfer over to a provincial booking portal when it’s launched on Mar. 15.
With appointments potentially being taken at pharmacies, hospitals, public health units and the province, some fear people will be left confused over how the province plans to vaccinate Ontarians.
“I think reasonable people would think there’s a lot of risk in that, or there’s some risk for it to be a bumpy ride, for people to be confused,” said Liberal MPP John Fraser.
Green Party Leader Mike Schreiner pleaded with the Ford government to present an updated vaccination plan in order to maintain public confidence.
“And as new developments evolve over time, then be clear and transparent about the adjustments you’re making,” Schreiner said.
“I think the public is going to understand that.”
B.C. records 542 new cases of COVID-19 and 7 more deaths – CBC.ca
B.C. health officials announced 542 new cases of COVID-19 and seven more deaths on Wednesday.
In a written statement, Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix put the number of hospitalized patients at 246 people, 64 of whom are in intensive care.
A total of 1,372 people in B.C. have lost their lives to COVID-19 since the pandemic began.
There are currently 4,654 active cases of coronavirus in the province, with public health monitoring 8,617 people across B.C. who are in self-isolation because of COVID-19 exposure. A total of 75,819 people who tested positive have recovered.
There have been no new outbreaks in health-care facilities.
So far, 289,809 doses of a COVID-19 vaccine have been administered, including 86,616 second doses.
Accelerated vaccination timeline
Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry says any eligible adult who wants a COVID-19 vaccine in British Columbia should be able to receive their first dose by the end of July, in light of the approval of the new AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine and the decision to delay second doses.
Health officials announced the accelerated timeline Monday as the province moved into the second phase of its vaccine rollout plan.
Seniors 80 and older, Indigenous seniors 65 and older, hospital staff and medical specialists, vulnerable populations living and working in shared settings, and staff providing in-home support to seniors will begin getting their shots this month.
More than 19,200 First Nations people have received their first dose of either the Moderna or Pfizer vaccines and 5,258 have received their second dose. In total, 24,515 Indigenous people in 113 communities have received a vaccine.
But some Indigenous leaders say it’s not without mishaps, including a lack communication, racism and outstanding questions about vaccinating urban community members.
The province’s vaccination plan is focused on inoculating high-risk people and most elderly populations by April. Younger age groups will follow in the spring and summer.
CBC British Columbia is hosting a town hall on March 10 to put your COVID-19 vaccine questions to expert guests, including Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry. You can find the details at cbc.ca/ourshot. Have a question about the vaccine, or the rollout plan in B.C.? Email us: email@example.com
Here's who will get the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine in Ontario – CTV Toronto
Ontario will use the AstraZeneca vaccine for people between the ages of 60 and 64 and will rely on “different pathways” such as pharmacists and health care practitioners to deliver the doses before they expire in early April.
The province is slated to receive an estimated 190,000 doses of the newly-approved AstraZeneca vaccine this month, roughly 114,000 of which have an expiration date of Apr. 2.
Solicitor General Sylvia Jones said the province is ready to distribute the vials to 34 public health units as they arrive and that Ontario has “done all the background work” needed to administer the vaccine.
“We have enough pathways to vaccination to use all vaccines that we get,” Jones told reporters at Queen’s Park
While Jones indicated the highly-portable AstraZeneca vaccine will be treated differently from the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines – which have strict cold storage requirements – she could not specify the exact delivery system and suggested that a variety of methods could be used to get the doses out the door.
“We have mass vaccination sites, we have public health partners, we have hospitals, we have pharmacies coming online, we have family [doctors],” Jones said.
While Jones confirmed the province has signed an agreement with the Ontario Pharmacy Association allowing community pharmacists to administer the new vaccine, she declined to provide specific information citing the need to double check that public health units are “aware and able” to fulfil the task.
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