Chief of Defence Staff Gen. Jonathan Vance responds to a question during a news conference Friday, June 26, 2020 in Ottawa. Vance is ordering his troops to be ready to pick up COVID-19 vaccines in the U.S. and Europe on short notice, and prepare to help distribute the doses while responding to floods and other emergencies. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

Defence chief says CAF will be ready after ordering COVID-19 vaccine prep last week

OTTAWA — The Canadian Armed Forces received formal orders last week to start planning for the distribution of COVID-19 vaccines, though the military’s top commander says preparations have been underway for longer — and that his force will be ready.

The order is contained in a planning directive issued last week by chief of the defence staff Gen. Jonathan Vance. It lays out in detail for the first time how the military expects to help with vaccine distribution.

It notes the possibility of having to pick up COVID-19 vaccine doses from the United States and Europe on short notice, and outlines concerns the military will be asked to help distribute the vaccine while also responding to floods and other emergencies.

The emergence of the directive comes ahead of an expected fight Thursday between the federal Liberal government and the Opposition Conservatives, who are set to introduce a motion in the House of Commons demanding details of Ottawa’s vaccine rollout.

The Conservatives say Canadians need, and deserve, to know when they can expect to be vaccinated against COVID-19, and who can expect to receive the shots first. That includes how the government is setting up a distribution network.

While that distribution plan is being led by the Public Health Agency of Canada, the Canadian Armed Forces is expected to play a significant role — as outlined by Vance’s order on Nov. 27 establishing what has been called Operation Vector.

The directive was obtained by The Canadian Press and confirmed to be authentic by multiple sources, including the defence chief.

Canada isn’t alone in turning to its military for help with vaccines. The U.S. military has been credited with having laid the groundwork in recent months for creating a distribution network that will get vaccines to Americans quickly once they are ready.

Despite having issued his directive on Operation Vector only last week, Vance said in an interview with The Canadian Press that Ottawa has been working for months on planning the distribution of COVID-19 vaccines. Those plans are now “well advanced,” he said, adding Canada’s military will be ready when the first shipment of doses are ready.

“We are as well poised as any country,” he said. “And when the vaccines arrive, we’ll be able to support the federal-provincial-territorial rollout plans. … The actual logistics of rolling it out, we are in the same position that our allies are in.”

Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan also described the work around Operation Vector as “ongoing planning,” saying in a statement that it will complement what “the Canadian Armed Forces has done and continues to do to help Canadians through COVID-19.”

Vance’s order lays out a series of tasks for different parts of the military, all aimed at ensuring the Forces are ready to respond when vaccines become available to Canada.

Those include flying doses “on short notice” from Spain, Germany, the U.S. and elsewhere “to designated points of distribution in Canada.” It also means providing personnel to help with distribution in remote, northern and coastal communities.

Military planners are also preparing to have troops work at vaccine-storage facilities, deliver freezers and other medical supplies to various regions — all while standing ready to also respond to other emergencies.

“Track 1 vaccines are likely to be delivered to Canadians at the height of the second wave of the pandemic and in the midst of the spring 2021 thaw — a period of heightened flooding risk for many communities,” Vance’s order reads.

It goes on to say that the “essential challenge” will be anticipating where to position troops and equipment “while preserving adequate capacity to surge in scale to respond to other unforeseen domestic emergencies.”

In the interview, Vance acknowledged the potential challenge posed by the spring flood season coinciding with a potential surge in COVID-19 cases and efforts to get vaccines to Canadians most at risk of the illness.

To that end, the defence chief said orders will start flowing to different parts of the military for Operation Vector in the coming weeks so individual troops know exactly what their specific jobs will be in a given situation.

Despite the advance planning, Vance said there remains a large number of unknowns, starting with the specific needs of individual provinces and territories when the actual delivery of a vaccine occurs and doses start flowing into communities.

“The details of the Armed Forces’ plan become firm when we understand what support will be required by the provinces and territories,” he said.

Last week, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau named Maj.-Gen. Dany Fortin, a former NATO commander, to lead the Canadian military in its role co-ordinating logistics for distributing a COVID-19 vaccine.

Health Canada is in the final stages of reviewing vaccine candidates from pharmaceutical companies Pfizer and Moderna, with a decision expected by the end of the month. Federal officials expect vaccines to begin rolling out early next year.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 3, 2020.

Lee Berthiaume, The Canadian Press

Coronavirus

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Police have charged two men after they allegedly tried to break into the Bentley post office with a semi. (Photo courtesy of RCMP)
Red Deer men charged in Bentley post office destruction

Police have charged a pair of Red Deer men after an attempted… Continue reading

Red Deer Fire Chief Ken McMullen remains concerned about “inconsistencies” in the province’s new way of dispatching local ambulances. (Advocate file photo).
A few glitches are already noticed in Red Deer’s new ambulance dispatch system

Local fire-medics need more data about ambulance arrival times

Alberta chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw said the province still hopes to bring the hospitalization number down before relaxing restrictions. (photography by Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta)
14 new deaths, 366 new COVID-19 cases in Alberta

Province nearing 100K COVID-19 vaccine doses administered

Cervus Equipment is planning to set up a new location near Highways 2 and 42 in Red Deer County. Graphic contributed
Cervus Equipment eyeing new Red Deer County location

Farm equipment busy looking to set up near Highways 2 and 42

Terrance Josephson of the Princeton Posse, at left, and Tyson Conroy of the Summerland Steam clash during a Junior B hockey game at the Summerland Arena in the early spring of 2020. (John Arendt - Summerland Review)
QUIZ: How much do you know about hockey?

Test your knowledge of Canada’s national winter sport

‘Stories the numbers tell’: Critics ask why Alberta sat on coal contamination data

‘Stories the numbers tell’: Critics ask why Alberta sat on coal contamination data

This undated photo provided by the Polk County Sheriff's Office, in Florida, shows Joshua Colon. On Tuesday, Jan. 26, 2021, officials said that Colon, who had been recently named “Paramedic of the Year,” helped a supervisor steal COVID-19 vaccines meant for first responders. (Polk County Sheriff's Office via AP)
‘Paramedic of the Year’ accused of helping to steal vaccine

‘Paramedic of the Year’ accused of helping to steal vaccine

FILE - In this July 31, 2019, file photo, migrants return to Mexico, using the Puerta Mexico bridge that crosses the Rio Grande river in Matamoros, Mexico, on the border with Brownsville, Texas. A federal judge on Tuesday, Jan. 26, 2021, barred the U.S. government from enforcing a 100-day deportation moratorium that is a key immigration priority of President Joe Biden. U.S. District Judge Drew Tipton issued a temporary restraining order sought by Texas, which sued on Friday against a Department of Homeland Security memo that instructed immigration agencies to pause most deportations. Tipton said the Biden administration had failed “to provide any concrete, reasonable justification for a 100-day pause on deportations.” (AP Photo/Emilio Espejel, File)
Judge bars Biden from enforcing 100-day deportation ban

Judge bars Biden from enforcing 100-day deportation ban

FILE - In this Jan. 23, 2021, file photo, registered Nurse Shyun Lin, left, administers Alda Maxis, 70, the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine at a pop-up vaccination site in the William Reid Apartments in the Brooklyn borough of New York. An increasing number of COVID-19 vaccination sites around the U.S. are canceling appointments because of vaccine shortages in a rollout so rife with confusion and unexplained bottlenecks. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer, Pool, File)
US boosting vaccine deliveries amid complaints of shortages

US boosting vaccine deliveries amid complaints of shortages

In this image from video, Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., the president pro tempore of the Senate, who is presiding over the impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump, swears in members of the Senate for the impeachment trial at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, Tuesday, Jan. 26, 2021. (Senate Television via AP)
GOP largely sides against holding Trump impeachment trial

GOP largely sides against holding Trump impeachment trial

People make their way through floodwaters in Beira Mozambique, Saturday, Jan. 23, 2021. The Mozambican port city of Beira breathed a sigh of relief as Cyclone Eloise caused less damage than feared as it passed through, but the danger of flooding remained in a region still recovering from a devastating cyclone two years ago. (AP Photo)
UN: 250,000 people affected by Cyclone Eloise in Mozambique

UN: 250,000 people affected by Cyclone Eloise in Mozambique

This image released by the Sundance Institute shows Rita Moreno in a scene from "Rita Moreno: Just a Girl Who Decided to Go For It," an official selection of the U.S. Documentary Competition at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival. (Sundance Institute via AP)
With many hungry for content, Sundance market heats up

With many hungry for content, Sundance market heats up

FILE - Actor Danny Huston attends the National Board of Review awards gala in New York on Jan. 8, 2019. Growing up in Ireland, one of his favorite memories was when his father, director John Huston, would bring out the projector and they’d gather around to watch his films. “The Maltese Falcon” was always a highlight. Now the film is celebrating its 80th anniversary. It’s returning to theaters through Fathom Events for a limited engagement on Wednesday. (Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP, File)
‘The Maltese Falcon’ returns to theatres at ripe age of 80

‘The Maltese Falcon’ returns to theatres at ripe age of 80

Most Read