Canada’s sluggish COVID-19 vaccination efforts are expected to get a big boost starting this week as the federal government prepares for a ramp up in the delivery of shots from Pfizer-BioNTech following a month-long lull.
The Public Health Agency of Canada has stated on its website that it expects more than 335,000 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine to be delivered this week, though the company says the figure will be closer to 400,000.
That is because the health agency’s number is based on five doses per vial, even though the federal government recently agreed with Pfizer’s request to have six doses administered per vial.
Either way, the expected delivery will represent the single largest shipment to Canada since the start of the pandemic as Pfizer continues scaling up production after a month-long slowdown while it expanded a plant in Belgium.
Canada’s vaccination efforts slowed to a crawl during that time, taking delivery of 339,000 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine between Jan. 18 and last week rather than the promised 1.15 million.
Pfizer is expected to deliver an even larger shipment next week, and has said it will make good on its promise to deliver a total of 4 million doses by the end of March.
The new deliveries will be welcomed by provinces and territories, which have administered the vast majority of the vaccines that they have received.
They will also likely ease some of the pressure on the federal Liberal government, which has been accused of mismanaging what amounts to the largest mass-vaccination effort in Canadian history.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau last week acknowledged the struggle with deliveries, but said things will get better in the weeks ahead, and even better than that in April, when Canada is expecting as many as one million doses a week.
“We’re approaching something we’re calling the big lift,” he said Thursday in a virtual roundtable with nurses and doctors from around Canada.
Yet the problems aren’t entirely over. Moderna — the other company whose vaccine has been approved for use in Canada so far — has confirmed its next shipment on Feb. 22 will be only 168,000 doses, two-thirds of what had been promised.
Moderna, which delivers once every three weeks, shipped 180,000 doses last week — 80 per cent of the promised amount.
In addition, Pfizer’s deliveries will only meet the promised number of doses if medical professionals can adjust to extracting six doses instead of five from every vial.
Getting that sixth dose requires the use of a low dead-volume syringe, which traps less vaccine in the needle and syringe after an injection.
Canada has now ordered 72 million of those syringes, and two million were delivered last week.
Maj.-Gen. Dany Fortin, the military commander overseeing Canada’s vaccine distribution, has said those are being shipped to the provinces to be ready for Monday, though no provinces reported receiving any as of Thursday.
Provincial governments are also concerned about how easy it will be to get that sixth dose, even with the special syringes.
To date, Canada has received about 928,000 doses from Pfizer and 515,000 from Moderna.