Public Services and Procurement Minister Anita Anand and Major General Dany Fortin look on as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau responds to a question during a news conference in Ottawa, Monday, Dec. 7, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

First doses of Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine, not yet approved, to land in Canada next week

OTTAWA — A small number of the most vulnerable Canadians could be immunized against COVID-19 before the holidays as the first doses of Pfizer’s vaccine are set to arrive next week.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Monday the contract with the U.S. pharmaceutical company and its German partner, BioNTech, was adjusted this week to reflect that up to 249,000 doses of their vaccine will be delivered to Canada before the end of December.

Everything hinges on Health Canada approving the Pfizer vaccine, with a decision expected on that in the coming days. Trudeau said that if approval comes by the end of the week, Canadians will begin getting vaccinated next week.

“It has been a difficult year, and we are not out of this crisis yet,” Trudeau said Monday at a news conference in Ottawa.

“But now, vaccines are coming.”

Maj.-Gen. Dany Fortin, named vice-president of logistics at the Public Health Agency of Canada to oversee the vaccine rollout plan, said once the vaccine is in Canada, it should take a day or two more for it to thaw and be prepared for an injection.

The Public Health Agency of Canada is overseeing the vaccine distribution to the provinces, but provincial governments decide who gets it and when, and puts in place the plan for that to happen.

The National Advisory Committee on Immunizations last week recommended priority be given to residents and workers in long-term care homes, front-line health workers, people over the age of 80 and adults living in Indigenous communities.

Most provinces are following that guidance at this point, however Trudeau said remote locations, including northern Indigenous reserves, won’t be getting the Pfizer vaccine for now because of the need to keep it so cold before it is ready for use.

“It is not easy to roll them out to more remote locations,” he said. “But this process will allow us to stand up our processes for delivering and handling this first vaccine as quickly as possible. There will be more doses of other vaccines at later dates on a priority basis for Indigenous Peoples, particularly those who are in northern and remote (communities).”

Pfizer’s vaccine has to be kept frozen below -70 C until just before it is diluted to be injected into a patient. The vaccine from U.S. biotech firm Moderna, which is on track to be approved in Canada after Pfizer’s, only needs to be kept at -20 C.

Health Canada is also reviewing vaccines from AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson, both of which can survive at temperatures of around 4 C.

All but Johnson & Johnson currently require two doses to be effective.

Because of the temperature issue, Pfizer is shipping its doses from its manufacturing plant in Puurs, Belgium directly to 14 receiving sites in each province that are equipped with at least one ultralow temperature freezer.

There are two delivery sites in Ontario, Quebec, British Columbia and Alberta, and one in each of the other six provinces. None of the early shipments are headed for the territories. Fortin said last week all the provinces were asked to have the sites ready to receive vaccine by Dec. 14th.

Canada and the provinces enacted a “dry run” Monday, said Fortin, with empty boxes shipped from Belgium to test Canada’s readiness.

“This is one way this week where we will learn how the process will flow, if adjustments need to be made,” he said.

Pfizer has developed special thermal shipping boxes that can carry the doses, packed on dry ice, for up to 10 days. The shippers can be used as temporary storage on sites where the vaccines are going to be injected as well. In between they must be stored in ultralow temperature freezers.

The vaccine can be kept in a refrigerator, at temperatures between 2 C and 8 C for up to five days, and then at room temperature for no more than two hours.

Each shipping box is equipped with a GPS-enabled thermal tracker to monitor the location and temperature during shipping.

Most provinces indicated they are ready now to receive the vaccine, including having ultralow temperature freezers set up at the receiving sites.

Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Andrew Furey said he anticipates receiving 1,950 doses at the receiving site in St. John’s next week.

Quebec Health Minister Christian Dubé said four shippers with about 4,000 doses are to go to Quebec next week, which will be distributed to long-term care homes and residential seniors’ homes first.

That would be enough to vaccinate about 2,000 people to start, with Dubé saying more doses will arrive between Dec. 21 and Jan. 4, enough to vaccinate between 22,000 and 28,000 people.

Retired Gen. Rick Hiller, who is leading Ontario’s vaccine task force, said a very small number of doses would land in that province next week, but that he anticipates 2.4 million doses in the first three months of next year.

Until Monday, Canada had said it expected to receive six million doses of vaccines between January and March, including four million doses from Pfizer, and another two million doses of the vaccine being made by U.S. biotech firm Moderna.

Trudeau said that plan was fast-tracked, though he denied politics played any role. He said his comments before today, including that Canadians may have to wait for vaccines behind people in the countries where they are being made, were designed “not to get people’s hopes up.”

Canada appears to be on track to be second to get the Pfizer vaccine. The United Kingdom approved it for use there last week, doses have been delivered and the first vaccinations are to start Tuesday.

The United States is set to decide on Pfizer’s approval Friday.

But unlike the U.S. and U.K. and some other countries, Canada will not be giving “emergency use approval” to any vaccines, Trudeau said later Monday in a pre-taped interview broadcast as part of the Wall Street Journal’s CEO Council winter summit.

Such approvals are used to allow unapproved medical products to be used in an emergency.

“We’re not doing any approval for emergency use. We are doing our regular process of approving vaccines,” Trudeau said.

“We’re saying, ‘Do we approve this vaccine. Is it safe for Canadians or not?’ So, it’s the full, regular process.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 7, 2020.

Mia Rabson, The Canadian Press

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

Just Posted

City of Red Deer says its roundabouts have sharply reduced the number of injury collisions at a pair of busy intersections. Alberta Transportation wants to incorporate five roundabouts into plans to twin Highway 11 from Sylvan Lake to Rocky Mountain House. Photo by PAUL COWLEY/Advocate staff
Highway 11 roundabouts will increase safety based on Red Deer’s experience

Injury collisions sharply reduced at roundabout intersections in city

As of Friday, Alberta has under 10,000 active COVID-19 cases. (Image courtesy CDC)
One new COVID-19 death in Red Deer, Alberta under 10,000 active cases

Alberta reported an additional 643 COVID-19 cases Friday. The province now has… Continue reading

About 110 students from Red Deer Catholic Regional Schools participated in March for Life rally in Edmonton May 9. (File photo by Advocate staff)
Red Deer high school has COVID-19 case

St. Joseph High School in Red Deer confirmed a positive COVID-19 case… Continue reading

Lacombe High School logo.
Two more COVID-19 cases at Lacombe Composite High School

Lacombe Composite High School confirmed two more positive COVID-19 cases at the… Continue reading

World Juniors’ referee Mike Langin makes a called during the Canada vs. Slovakia at the 2021 World Junior Championship at Rogers Place in Edmonton, Dec. 27, 2020. (Photo by Matthew Murnaghan/Hockey Canada)
Former Sylvan Lake man lives his dream at World Junior Championships

Mike Langin was one the 25 Canadian officials who worked during the tournament

Former Alberta Premier Rachel Notley shakes hands with Joel Ward, former Red Deer College President and CEO, as Notley announces that the college is on the path to grant degrees. Red Deer-South MLA Jason Stephan says university status is not a necessary condition for offering degrees. (File photo by Advocate staff)
Future of Red Deer University increasingly uncertain

MLA’s college update says RDC more like SAIT and NAIT than a university

There are two confirmed COVID-19 cases at Red Deer College. Photo by Mamta Lulla/Advocate staff
Central Albertans were promised a university

Central Albertans were promised a university

FILE - In this Jan. 6, 2021, file photo rioters try to break through a police barrier at the Capitol in Washington. (AP Photo/John Minchillo, File)
Schumer: Trump impeachment trial to begin week of Feb. 8

Schumer: Trump impeachment trial to begin week of Feb. 8

Paramedics take away an elderly patient at the Tendercare Living Centre, long-term-care facility during the COVID-19 pandemic in Scarborough, Ont., on Wednesday, December 23, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Blood thinners help moderate COVID cases and may reduce strain on ICUs, trials show

Blood thinners help moderate COVID cases and may reduce strain on ICUs, trials show

This image released by Baobab Studios shows an avatar representing actress Daisy Ridley, left, with her character, Magda, at the virtual reality premiere of her short film "Baba Yaga." It’s being called the first ever VR movie premiere. And consumers can experience the premiere space and the film now through Oculus Quest. (Baobab Studios via AP)
‘Baba Yaga’ introduces with a virtual reality movie premiere

‘Baba Yaga’ introduces with a virtual reality movie premiere

With new album, Epik High endures in South Korea music scene

With new album, Epik High endures in South Korea music scene

A man wears a face mask as he walks by a storefront window advertising after Christmas sales on Boxing Day in Montreal, Saturday, Dec. 26, 2020. Statistics Canada says retail sales climbed 1.3 per cent to $55.2 billion in November, rising for the seventh straight month. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes
Retail sales rise 1.3 per cent to $55.2 billion in November as online shopping surges

Retail sales rise 1.3 per cent to $55.2 billion in November as online shopping surges

Joe Biden, then the U.S. vice-president, and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau take their seats at the start of the First Ministers and National Indigenous Leaders meeting in Ottawa, Friday, Dec. 9, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Look past Keystone XL to areas of Canada-U. S. alignment, Trudeau suggests

Look past Keystone XL to areas of Canada-U. S. alignment, Trudeau suggests

In this Dec. 18, 2020 photo, pipes to be used for the Keystone XL pipeline are stored in a field near Dorchester, Neb. The leader of a group promoting Indigenous participation in oil and gas development as a solution to poverty on reserves says the cancellation of the Keystone XL pipeline by President Joe Biden is a major setback. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Chris Machian /Omaha World-Herald via AP
Indigenous business coalition leader says Keystone XL denial will hurt communities

Indigenous business coalition leader says Keystone XL denial will hurt communities

Most Read