Trudeau insists vaccination effort is on track, despite Pfizer-BioNTech supply disruption

Despite a significant short-term gap in deliveries of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines to Canada, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said today he’s still confident the country is on track to vaccinate every Canadian who wants a shot by September.

“This situation with the Pfizer delay is temporary. Our vaccination objectives for the first quarter of the year, January to March, are not changing,” Trudeau said from the steps of Rideau Cottage today.

“The total number of doses committed to us is still the same,” he said, adding that “every Canadian” who wants to be vaccinated will get the shot “by September.”

Maj.-Gen. Dany Fortin, the military commander leading vaccine logistics for the federal government, said that Canadians should expect only 50 per cent of the promised Pfizer-BioNTech doses the government was promised for the remainder of January.

Fortin said Canada will only get 82 per cent of the vaccine doses it expected this week and no deliveries at all from Pfizer-BioNTech next week, before shipments resume in the last week of January.

Watch: Trudeau on vaccine supply challenges in the first three months of 2021

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau responds to questions about why Canada has received so few COVID-19 doses in quarter one of the vaccine rollout, and what he is doing to ensure Pfizer meets its contractual agreements with Canada. 2:29

Fortin said deliveries are expected to scale up in the first two weeks of February, adding he won’t be able to offer more details about Pfizer-BioNTech shipments next month until he is briefed by the company on Thursday.

Fortin has said previously that Canada was expecting the delivery of 1.4 million Pfizer doses in February.

“Numbers are expected to go back up to what we had originally planned and Pfizer continues to tell us that they expect to be able to deliver up to four million of doses of Pfizer vaccine by the end of this quarter, so by the end of March,” he said.

Pfizer issued a public statement today saying that the company is looking to ramp up vaccine production and deliver up to two billion doses over 2021. 

“To accomplish this, certain modifications of production processes will be required,” the company said. “Pfizer is scaling up manufacturing operations in our Puurs, Belgium manufacturing facility to increase  dose  availability and output and, as a result, there will be a temporary impact on some shipments until mid-February in order to quickly enable increased production volumes afterwards.”

The company said it anticipates that the supply disruptions will balance out and that it will be able to keep its delivery schedule for the first quarter of the year. 

Watch: Maj.-Gen. Dany Fortin says some deliveries of Pfizer-BioNTech have been suspended

Maj.-Gen. Dany Fortin spoke to reporters Tuesday during a virtual press briefing. 2:11

Public Services and Procurement Minister Anita Anand said she spent the weekend on the phone with Pfizer executives making the point that the delivery schedule must return to normal as soon as possible. 

“We knew that we would likely need to weather challenges with supply, given complex manufacturing, unprecedented global demand and rapid acceleration to peak production,” Anand said. “This is an evolving situation but I will continue to update Canadians as soon as I have additional information.”

Anand said last week that while Pfizer’s Michigan plant is only 220 kilometres away from the Detroit-Windsor border crossing, the vaccines being produced there have been earmarked for the American market.

Moderna is expected to deliver another two million doses of its vaccine over the first three months of the year. Fortin said that deliveries of that vaccine remain on track and Canada expects to take delivery of 230,000 doses in the first week of February.

As of Jan. 14, Canada had received 765,100 vaccine doses. Of that total, 588,900 were from Pfizer-BioNTech and 176,200 were from Moderna. 

Other promising vaccine candidates from AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson’s pharmaceutical division, Janssen, are being reviewed by regulators at Health Canada.

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