OTTAWA — Canada faces an “unfortunate” delay in vaccine deliveries due to Pfizer production issues in Europe, federal officials revealed Friday, chalking it up to the challenges of an unprecedented mass immunization effort while insisting most Canadians will still be vaccinated by fall.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Ottawa was “working day in and day out to get vaccines delivered as quickly as possible” but acknowledged that Pfizer-BioNTech doses have been derailed in the short-term.
Trudeau said this is why Canada has one of the most diverse vaccine portfolios in the world, pointing to seven bilateral agreements he says ensure “flexibility when it comes to supply chains.”
“I want to be very clear: this does not impact our goal to have enough vaccines available by September for every Canadian who wants one,” Trudeau said from outside Rideau Cottage.
Procurement Minister Anita Anand said earlier Friday that production issues will temporarily reduce promised doses to Canada, as well as all countries that receive vaccines from Pfizer’s European facility.
While the company assured Canada it will still be able to deliver four million doses by the end of March, Anand acknowledged that is no longer guaranteed.
“This is unfortunate. However such delays and issues are to be expected when global supply chains are stretched well beyond their limits,” Anand said at a news conference.
“It’s not a stoppage.”
The immediate impact on Canada’s Pfizer-BioNTech supply was unclear.
According to the government’s website, more than 200,000 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine were expected in each of the next two weeks and 1.4 million doses were expected in February.
Canada has received about 380,000 doses of the vaccine so far.
Pfizer Canada spokeswoman Christina Antoniou said the production facility in Puurs, Belgium is undergoing some modifications in the coming weeks to increase the number of doses it can pump out.
Pfizer hopes to double its 2021 production to two billion doses.
“Pfizer Canada will continue to pursue its efforts in anticipation that by the end of March, we will be able to catch up to be on track for the total committed doses for Q1,” Antoniou said.
The news comes as Ottawa released federal projections that suggest the pandemic may soon exceed levels seen in the first wave, rising to 19,630 cumulative deaths and 10,000 daily infections in a little over a week.
The modelling shows total cases could grow to nearly 796,630 from about 694,000, and that another 2,000 people could die by Jan. 24.
Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam urged sustained vigilance as a long-range forecast suggested rapid growth would continue without “quick, strong and sustained” measures.
Tam said that’s especially so in national hot spots of Quebec and Ontario, where a steady increase in hospitalizations has strained the health system’s ability to keep up with critical care demands. The projections do not take into account Quebec’s recently implemented four-week curfew or Ontario’s new stay-at-home orders.
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Tam emphasized the need to reduce community spread to help relieve some of the pressure on hospitals and long-term care homes.
“The vaccine alone is not going to make a dent in some of that,” she said.
“As the older population in long-term care receive the vaccines we’re going to look very carefully to see if the serious illnesses and the deaths go down, but that’s also a factor of what’s happening in the community.”
It was an especially deadly day in Ontario, which reported 100 deaths linked to COVID-19, although that took into account a difference in database reporting between one of its health units and the province.
The province’s newly resolved tally added 46 deaths from Middlesex-London that occurred earlier in the pandemic.
Ontario also reported 2,998 new cases of COVID-19 with 800 of those new cases in Toronto, 618 in Peel Region and 250 in York Region.
Quebec reported 1,918 new COVID-19 cases and 62 more deaths, including nine that occurred in the past 24 hours.
Concern also remained in Atlantic Canada’s hot spot of New Brunswick, which reported 25 new cases and remains at the province’s second-highest pandemic alert level.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 15, 2021.