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First doses of Pfizer-BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine arriving in Canada tonight

The first doses of Pfizer-BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine will arrive in Canada on Sunday night, with more to follow on Monday, according to the military commander leading the national vaccine distribution effort.

Maj.-Gen. Dany Fortin, who is in charge of logistics at the Public Health Agency of Canada’s national operations centre, told CBC’s Chief Political Correspondent Rosemary Barton that he is confident provinces are prepared to receive and distribute the first batch of approximately 30,000 doses.

“The delivery schedule is unfolding exactly as planned,” Fortin said in an interview on Rosemary Barton Live.

“Some flights will arrive tonight, some flights will arrive tomorrow, some trucks will cross the border tomorrow. So it’s all coming in the coming day or two.”

The impending delivery will set in motion a national immunization program of unprecedented scale that many hope will bring the coronavirus outbreak to an end and an eventual return to normalcy. The pandemic has killed more than 13,000 people in Canada and infected another 450,000.

“The provinces will be in a position to administer the vaccines in the coming days,” Fortin said. 

Logistical dry-runs

Fortin led a series of dry-runs last week to make sure everyone involved is comfortable handling the heat-sensitive shots — which must be stored at temperatures between –80 C and –60 C.

Because the Pfizer product is so temperature-sensitive, Pfizer contracted UPS to ship the doses directly from its plants to 14 points of use throughout Canada in order to limit movement and keep the vaccine stable. Most of those sites are at hospitals in major urban centres that have freezers capable of meeting the vaccine’s storage requirements.

Fortin said he expects provinces to increase the number of delivery sites capable of receiving vaccine shipments in the coming days.

“It depends per province — they might add one or two or three,” Fortin said. “When we’re at full speed, we’re probably going to have a couple of hundred sites for for Pfizer-BioNTech product.”

Once the doses arrive, provinces will administer the vaccine to people in priority population groups, including front-line health-care workers and long-term care residents. 

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced on Dec. 7 that up to 249,000 doses of the two-dose Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine will be ready before the end of the year. Officials have said they expect a total of six million doses to arrive by the end of March 2021.

UPS Canada released on Friday what the company said are the first images of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine doses bound for Canada being processed at a distribution facility in Cologne, Germany.

Details on upcoming shipments from Pfizer — including arrival dates and the number doses — are still being worked out with the company, Fortin said.

“The intent here is to ensure that we continue to have regular drip feed of vaccines in the coming coming weeks,” he said.

Each province will receive vaccine doses in proportion to its share of the population. Pfizer’s vaccine will not be sent to the territories for the time being as they currently lack the capacity to safely store the product.

Canada became only the third country to give the green light to Pfizer-BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine when Health Canada authorized use of the vaccine for people over the age of 16 last Wednesday. Health Canada concluded the vaccine was safe and approximately 95 per cent effective after a two-month review of the companies’ clinical trial data.




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