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Canadian provinces push back vaccination plans as Pfizer deliveries grind to a halt

·5 min read

Some provinces were forced to push back vaccination for health-care workers and vulnerable seniors on Monday as deliveries from a major manufacturer ground to a temporary halt.

Canada is not due to receive any Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines this week as the company revamps its operations, and deliveries are expected to be slow for the next few weeks.

Ontario announced Monday that it was pausing COVID-19 vaccinations of long-term care staff and essential caregivers so that it can focus on giving the shots to all nursing home residents.

Premier Doug Ford said the delay has taught the province that it can’t take vaccine shipments for granted.

"I want to be clear: we’re using every single vaccine we can to protect our most vulnerable," Ford told a news conference. "But delivery delays are forcing us to be careful and cautious as we plan, to ensure we’re able to offer second doses."

The news came as more cases of the more contagious U.K. variant of COVID-19 were detected across Ontario, including in at least one long-term care home.

Some provinces have used up nearly all their vaccine supply and have been forced to push back their vaccination schedules.

Saskatchewan announced Sunday that it had exhausted all the doses it received. However, even after technically running out, the province still managed to vaccinate another 304 people as it continued to draw extra doses from the vials it received. It had administered 102 per cent of its allotted doses by Monday, and it expected the remaining excess doses to be gone this week.

Quebec has used up more than 90 per cent of its supply. It confirmed that the delivery delay would force it to postpone its vaccination rollout in private seniors' residences, which had been scheduled to start Monday.

"Let's be realistic: our vaccination momentum will be reduced as of this week," Marjaurie Cote-Boileau, press secretary to Health Minister Christian Dube, said in a text message.

"Given the important reduction of Pfizer doses we'll receive in the next two weeks, we have had to review our vaccination calendar."

Quebec finished giving first doses to long-term care residents last week and has vaccinated some 9,000 seniors in private homes by using leftover doses. The province gave less than 2,000 shots Sunday, compared to an average of more than 9,600 a day over the previous week.

In British Columbia, the provincial health officer said the government is extending the interval between the two doses of the COVID-19 vaccine. Dr. Bonnie Henry said further delays in the production and delivery of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine over the next two weeks caused the time period between the shots to be extended from 35 days to 42.

She said about about 60 per cent of more than 119,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccine administered in the province so far have gone to protecting residents of long-term care homes.

The Manitoba government also said it may soon have to put off some second-dose vaccine appointments as a result of the disruptions to the supply of the Pfizer vaccine.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has stressed that the delay is only temporary and that Canada is expected to receive 4 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine by the end of March.

As Parliament resumed Monday, Trudeau faced a barrage of questions from MPs of all parties as they blasted the Liberal government for what they described as a botched approach to rolling out vaccines.

Both Trudeau and Procurement Minister Anita Anand repeated the government’s promise that by the end of September, all Canadians wishing to be vaccinated will have received their shots.

Trudeau added that the country is still receiving shipments of the Moderna vaccine.

Earlier Monday, Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland said there is “tremendous pressure” on the global supply chain for vaccines that the government has tried to mitigate.

“We are working on this every single day, because we know how important vaccines are to Canadians, to first and foremost the lives of Canadians and also to our economy," she told a news conference in Ottawa by video.

Despite the vaccine delay, some provinces continued to report encouraging drops in the number of new cases and hospitalizations. Ontario reported fewer than 2,000 cases, as well as fewer people in hospital. It was a similar story in Quebec, where hospitalizations dropped for a sixth straight day.

Newfoundland and Labrador also reported no new cases of COVID-19 for a third straight day.

Alberta reported only 362 new cases of COVID-19 on Monday, compared with daily numbers peaking as high as 1,800 in mid-December. But the big concern for health officials was a case of the U.K. variant that could not be directly traced to international travel.

Alberta Health Minister Tyler Shandro said that while it is one case, the variant could quickly overwhelm hospitals if not checked.

“There’s no question that this kind of exponential growth would push our health-care system to the brink,” Shandro told a news conference. “It would significantly impact the health care and the services available to all Albertans.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 25, 2021.

— With files from Shawn Jeffords, Jordan Press, Dean Bennett and Stephanie Levitz.

Morgan Lowrie, The Canadian Press