The federal government is buying more doses of the COVID-19 vaccine from Pfizer-BioNTech as it moves to offset the reduction in supply from another producer.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced Friday a contract with Pfizer for eight million additional doses of their vaccine hours after Canada said Moderna would slash its deliveries in half through the rest of April.
The increase in Pfizer supply is coming at a time when COVID activity is rapidly spreading in parts of the country.
“In many places, numbers are higher than they’ve ever been before,” Trudeau said. “And far too many hospitals are already stretched far too thin. … So we’re going to do whatever it takes to help.”
Rapid growth in COVID activity continues to be seen as variants of concern escalate in parts of the country.
Yesterday, during a modelling data update from Dr. Bonnie Henry, she revealed that variants of concern have become the majority of cases across the province.
Despite increasing case numbers and hospitalizations, Dr. Henry points out that there has been a dramatic decrease in the rates of death, coinciding with the rollout of the province’s COVID-19 immunization plan.
Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief medical officer, also agreed that the ramped-up vaccine rollout has been positive with seven million residents across Canada inoculated this week.
“Vaccines are reducing severe illness, death and outbreaks in high-risk settings and populations that were targeted in that initial phase of vaccination,” she said. “These benefits are building, and they will be the bridge that takes us all to greater safety.”
Canada’s expanded contract with Pfizer will kick in next month, Procurement Minister Anita Anand said, with the first four million of the new eight million doses arriving in May.
She said two million more doses will come in June and July, respectively, and Pfizer is also moving another 400,000 doses from the third quarter into June.
Canada’s initial shipment of approximately 300,000 doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine will also arrive during the week of April 27, Anand said, to be delivered to the provinces at the beginning of May.
The increased Pfizer doses help offset another production delay from Moderna. Anand said earlier Friday that Moderna will ship 650,000 doses of its vaccine by the end of the month, instead of the expected 1.2 million.
Anand said in a statement that Moderna advised Canada the limited supply is due to a slower than anticipated ramp up of production capacity.
The company also told Canada that one to two million doses of the 12.3 million scheduled for delivery in the second quarter may be delayed until the third quarter.
“We are disappointed, and while we understand the challenges facing suppliers in the current global market for vaccines, our government will continue to press Moderna to fulfil its commitments,” Anand said in a statement.
Moderna said in a statement there has been a “shortfall” in estimated doses from the European supply chain, and that it will be “making adjustments” to expected delivery quantities in a number of countries, including Canada.
Trudeau said Friday he was “concerned” about the delays and production challenges facing Moderna, but added that Pfizer has been reliable. He said their doses will make up the “bulk of vaccines being given to Canadians in the coming months.”
Earlier Friday, the Canadian Medical Association called for “extraordinary” measures, including sharing provincial healthcare resources and dropping the per-capita approach to vaccine distribution, to address the COVID-19 crisis unfolding in several provinces.
The CMA said it wants the federal government to consider re-prioritizing its vaccine distribution strategy to focus on urgent areas instead of distributing to provinces on a per-capita basis.
Trudeau said conversations with provinces about vaccine allocation have been “ongoing.”
“We’re happy to continue to work with the provinces on adjusting (vaccine distribution) as the provinces see necessary,” he said.
The CMA president-elect Dr. Katharine Smart said further restrictions must also be considered in provinces experiencing rapid rates of COVID-19 transmission.
“That means anything that’s truly not essential … needs to be closed completely for a period of time,” she said. “These half-closures and half-measures and not working.”
Currently, B.C.’s latest restrictions, which ban indoor dining at restaurants among other things, are set to end on April 19, however, there have been rumours swirling that they will be extended into May.
Earlier this week, B.C. Premier John Horgan also hinted that a full-on travel ban was not off the table.
With files to Canadian Press.