A vaccine is administered to a personal support worker at the Ottawa Hospital, Tuesday December 15, 2020 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

Moderna cutting vaccine shipment to Canada next week by more than 50,000 doses

OTTAWA — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says Canada’s other vaccine supplier has to cut back on its deliveries next week.

Moderna will ship only about three-quarters of the expected supply, cutting Canada’s next shipment by more than 50,000 doses.

Canada was supposed to get more than 230,000 doses from Moderna next week, but will instead get slightly fewer than 180,000.

Moderna’s Canadian manager said in a written statement that the delay is related to producing the “drug substance” component of the Moderna vaccine, which is being done by Swiss drug manufacturer Lonza in Visp, Switzerland.

Patricia Gauthier said the delays are short term for non-U. S. clients, and the company is still able to ship its promised doses in the first three months of the year. For Canada, that is two million doses. Canada has received 340,200 doses from Moderna so far.

The U.S. shipments from Moderna are coming from plants within the United States.

“Moderna remains focused on operating at the highest level of quality to ensure the safety of the vaccine,” said Gauthier.

Lonza is creating three new production lines in Visp to make the drug components of Moderna’s vaccine. The first began production in early January and the others were to be added before the end of March.

Trudeau said as companies build the manufacturing of these vaccines from scratch delays in the early days are not unexpected.

Similar cuts are being made to Europe’s deliveries, with Italy, France and Switzerland all reporting they, too, are getting less than 80 per cent of their expected doses.

It is more bad news for Canada’s already troubled vaccine supplies, after Pfizer cut back its deliveries by more than two-thirds since mid-January. Canadian provinces had to slow vaccinations significantly since Pfizer’s shipments were

Pfizer is also pushing Canada to change the label on its vaccine to declare each vial contains six doses, instead of five, allowing the drugmaker to meet its delivery contract by sending fewer vials.

However Trudeau says new export controls Europe is imposing on COVID-19 vaccines produced there won’t affect Canada, and he expects Pfizer and Moderna to catch up on their deliveries before long.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said Friday the commission is following through on a threat to force COVID-19 vaccine makers to show them what vaccines they are producing in Europe and where those are going.

She said the export transparency rule is temporary but has to be done as the continent is in an ongoing battle with vaccine-makers about slow deliveries.

Both Pfizer-BioNTech and AstraZeneca are behind on their scheduled deliveries to European nations, but it is the latter with which Europe is having the loudest fight, demanding the company ship doses made in the United Kingdom to make up for shortfalls due to production issues in its European plants.

Trudeau spoke with von der Leyen earlier this week and he said she told him Canada’s deliveries would continue. International Trade Minister Mary Ng spoke Thursday with European trade commissioner Valdis Dombrovskis, and said he reiterated that assurance.

The delivery news will overshadow Friday’s positive vaccine development with American pharmaceutical giant Johnson and Johnson reporting its vaccine is very good at preventing people from being hospitalized or dying from COVID-19.

The vaccine is the first to use just a single dose and can be stored in a fridge for up to three months, making it a potential game-changer in the COVID-19 vaccination campaign.

The results aren’t quite as good as those seen in the two vaccines Health Canada has already approved, with both Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna saying their vaccines showed 95 per cent efficacy against severe illness.

Johnson and Johnson says its single-dose vaccine is 85 per cent effective against severe illness a month after the injection is given, and 66 per cent effective against both moderate and severe illness.

The federal government has already pre-purchased 10 million doses of the vaccine, but it is still being reviewed by Health Canada.

There is no timeline yet for when approval might come or when those doses would be delivered for use in Canada.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 29, 2021.

Mia Rabson, The Canadian Press

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