National Post (Latest Edition)

Vaccines waiting in freezers for rollout

Pressure on provinces to speed up inoculatio­ns

- RYAN TUMILTY

OTTAWA • Canada’s COVID19 vaccines are hitting a bottleneck with provincial government­s, which have stockpiled more than three times the number of doses they have administer­ed.

The federal government has delivered 420,450 doses of COVID vaccine, split between the Pfizer and Moderna candidates, but only 117,768 doses have reached the arms of health-care workers, long-term care residents and other priority groups. The rest is still in storage freezers across the country, according to a report Monday from the COVID-19 Canada Open Data group, a joint project between researcher­s at the University of Toronto and the University of Guelph.

Isha Berry, a PHD candidate in epidemiolo­gy at the University of Toronto and one of the researcher­s leading the project, said there is definitely a significan­t gap between what provinces have received and what they have delivered.

Berry said it is hard to be sure what is causing the delays, but the federal government had initially said vaccines would arrive in January, before reaching agreements to receive some doses in December.

“Canada hadn’t anticipate­d getting vaccines until sort of 2021, so they came a bit early,” she said.

Ontario faced criticism after slowing its vaccinatio­n campaign over the holidays to give health- care staff a break. Retired general Rick Hillier, who is overseeing Ontario’s rollout, apologized, admitting it had been a mistake.

Berry said January will be the real test of what provinces can do.

“What will be more telling is seeing what happens the next couple of weeks, the holiday season has passed, as things are ramping up and getting back into normal swing,” she said. “That’s when we’ll be able to better see how well- oiled the machine is to deliver these vaccines.”

On Monday, Ontario began administer­ing the second shot to those healthcare workers who received the first doses of the vaccine last month. Both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines require two doses for a person to be fully vaccinated.

Premier Doug Ford, who was present as the five workers received their shots, acknowledg­ed there have been “a few bumps in the road” in the province’s immunizati­on campaign but said he is confident in Hillier’s plan.

“We’re ramping it up and you’re going to see a significan­t difference over the next few weeks,” the premier said.

In total as of Sunday, Ontario received 148,350 doses and administer­ed 37,551, Quebec received 88,075 and administer­ed 28,762, Alberta has been shipped 46,150, but put just 17,244 doses into arms and B. C. received 54,625 doses, while administer­ing just 17,510.

Late Monday, a spokespers­on for the Ontario ministry of Health said they had administer­ed nearly 50,000 vaccines as of the end of Monday and they expected to be through their available doses within a few days.

The Pfizer vaccine had gone to hospital and longterm care workers and the spokespers­on said they would be using the Moderna vaccine to reach long- term care residents.

Last week, Maj.- Gen. Dany Fortin, who is overseeing the federal distributi­on effort, said the government expected 124,000 more Pfizer doses to be delivered this week, and 208,000 doses per week for the rest of January, along with an additional 170,000 doses of Moderna’s vaccine due in January.

Fortin said by the end of the month he expected Canada would cumulative­ly have received 1.2 million doses, enough to fully vaccinate 600,000 people.

The government expects to receive six million doses in the first three months of this year, followed by a significan­t ramp-up that would allow Canada to vaccinate everyone who wants a vaccine by September.

Health Minister Patty Hajdu was unavailabl­e Monday, but last week said she expects provinces will step up and get the vaccines out, because the public will demand it.

“It’s Canadians that expect that we get on with vaccinatio­ns quickly as possible,” she said. “Every day that we delay, in fact, is another risk for a person in a long- term care home, for a person who works in a longterm care home facility, or other people that are connected to those folks.”

As of Sunday evening, Canada had seen just over 600,000 cases of the virus and more than 15,000 deaths. Hospitals and ICUS across the country were also starting to feel the strain with some provinces seeing levels of new cases higher than at any point in the pandemic.

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