Dr. Howard Njoo, Deputy Chief Public Health Officer at Public Health Agency of Canada, speaks during a COVID-19 press conference at the Sir John A. Macdonald Building in Ottawa on Wednesday, Dec. 23, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/David Kawai

Vaccine distribution ramping up as 11 per cent of Canadians get first shots: Ottawa

The federal government says COVID-19 vaccine distribution will steadily increase in the coming weeks as Canada hit an important milestone in giving out shots.

Deputy chief public health officer, Dr. Howard Njoo, said during a news conference Thursday that the country has surpassed the 10 per cent mark of residents over 18 who have received at least one shot.

“To date, over 4.3 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines have been administered in Canada,” he told reporters in Ottawa. “This marks an important milestone, with more than 11 per cent of eligible adult Canadians … having received at least one dose.”

Njoo said that includes 60 per cent of people older than 80 and 19 per cent between 70 and 79. More than 60 per cent of adults in the three territories have received their first shot, he said.

But he warned the milestone is not enough to stop the spread as more transmissible variants continue to pose a “significant threat” until more people are vaccinated.

Federal officials said a total of six million vaccine doses have been delivered to the provinces and territories.

“With nearly two million vaccine doses to be distributed next week, we are clearly on track to receive eight million vaccine doses, reaching our objective for this quarter,” said Maj.-Gen. Dany Fortin, the military commander who is overseeing the country’s vaccine program logistics.

Fortin said he doesn’t expect any disruption to shipments of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine from Europe, despite concerns about potential export reductions by the European Union.

He expected 1.2 million Pfizer doses to arrive next week — the same as this week, which was the largest shipment so far. Another 846,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine were to be delivered by next week.

Fortin added that there’s “no indication” that shipments of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine to Canada will be delayed, but added those discussions are ongoing.

Media reports Wednesday said India has halted exports of Covishield, the version of AstraZeneca produced at that country’s Serum Institute.

India has already supplied 500,000 of a planned two million doses to Canada, with another one million still slated for arrival in mid-April followed by a final shipment a month or so later.

Fortin’s remarks echoed those of International Trade Minister Mary Ng, who said Wednesday there is nothing to indicate Canada’s supply chains will be disrupted.

Health Canada noted Thursday they have also updated the product label for the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine to warn about blood clotting, but noted reports of those events are very rare and nonexistent in Canada.

Dr. Supriya Sharma, chief medical advisor for the federal department, said three cases of blood clotting have been reported out of 300,000 Canadians who have received at least one dose of the vaccine and none appeared to be linked to the vaccine.

She said she agrees with European health authorities that the benefits of the vaccine outweigh any potential risks, and that all four vaccines approved for use in Canada are considered safe.

Canada’s overall infection rate since the pandemic began a year ago is nearing the one-million mark. To date, the virus has killed 22,759 people across the country.

Health officials in New Brunswick are imposing circuit breaker measures in an effort to contain an outbreak of the disease in the northwestern part of the province.

Officials there are reporting 30 new cases of COVID-19 for a total of 89 active cases across the province.

Ontario reported another 2,380 cases and 17 deaths on Thursday, but officials noted that number is inflated because of a data processing issue that required a catch up.

Quebec also reported 945 cases and four more deaths, while Manitoba reported 111 cases and one death.

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