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3 million Canadians could be vaccinated in early 2021

Federal officials sought to reassure Canadians today that Ottawa has a plan to procure and distribute millions of COVID-19 vaccines in early 2021, as the government's critics argue that Canada seems to be falling behind other developed countries in planning for a mass vaccination campaign.

Health Canada regulators are reviewing clinical trial data, the government has signed purchase agreements for promising vaccine candidates and public health officials have procured needles and syringes for a future deployment, officials said. But top civil servants still don't know how and when Canadians will be vaccinated due to a number of uncertainties.

Dr. Howard Njoo, Canada's deputy chief public health officer, said the country will grapple with "some logistical challenges" in the months to come as it prepares to inoculate Canadians. He said the federal government will leverage the Canadian Armed Forces and an existing influenza vaccine distribution network to help with deployment.

Njoo warned that vaccine supply will be quite limited at first and will be reserved for "high priority groups" only — seniors in long-term care homes, people at risk of severe illness and death, first responders and health care workers and some Indigenous communities, among others.

A larger rollout, he said, will happen once supply chains stabilize and regulators approve more vaccine candidates for use in Canada.

If all goes well, and if U.S. pharmaceutical giants are able to meet delivery timelines, Njoo said as many as six million doses could be deployed in the first three months of 2021. Each patient will need two doses of Pfizer's vaccine.

messenger RNA technology, or mRNA, which essentially directs cells in the body to make proteins to prevent or fight disease.

Canada is expected to receive at least 194 million vaccine doses, with contractual options for 220 million more. "Canada does have firm agreements," Reza said. "We work every day with the vaccine manufacturers to firm up the delivery schedule."

Dr. Supriya Sharma, the chief medical adviser at Health Canada, said her department has been reviewing clinical trial data on a rolling basis since October 9.

The rolling review process — a policy shift implemented because of the urgency of this pandemic — allows drug makers to bypass the lengthy timelines they normally face when launching a new vaccine.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is set to make its final decision on the Pfizer product on Dec. 10 — the company has reported a 95 per cent effectiveness rate — and Sharma said Health Canada is expecting to give approval for that product "around the same time. We're on track to make decisions on similar timelines."

"We don't want to set up expectations that we might not be able meet. We're working flat out," Sharma said.

Reza said she doesn't know when that product might hit our shores, but she's hopeful for a fast turnaround.

"The minute regulatory approval comes through, they will be ready to go quite quickly with supply and initial shipments," she said.

Sharma said drug companies could send vaccines to Canada for "pre-positioning" — stockpiling in advance of regulatory approval — but no vaccines have yet been shipped to our country.


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