OTTAWA—The Canadian government expects the country will have received a total of 1.2 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines by the end of January after Wednesday’s approval of U.S.-based Moderna’s shots.
Health Canada approved Moderna’s vaccine Wednesday, and a first batch of 168,000 doses could be delivered as early as Friday morning.
In addition to Moderna vaccines, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that an additional 250,000 doses of the previously approved Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine are expected to be delivered in January.
Trudeau said that, in total, Canada expects to have 1.2 million doses of the two vaccines by the end of January. The government has previously said it expects to have four million doses of the Pfizer vaccine and two million doses of the Moderna vaccine by the end of March — enough to vaccinate three million Canadians, as both vaccines require two doses.
“Now that Health Canada has approved the Moderna vaccine, we have the green light to start rolling it out across the country,” Trudeau told reporters at a press conference outside Rideau Cottage on Wednesday.
“The first doses of our guaranteed 40-million-dose order from Moderna will arrive in the coming days.”
Despite promising news on the vaccine front, however, Trudeau urged Canadians to follow public health guidelines during the Christmas season — to limit socializing, to wear masks, and to limit trips outside the home to the essentials.
“All the sacrifices that Canadians have made over the past many months — birthdays, anniversaries that have gone uncelebrated, funerals over Zoom as people have lost loved ones, weddings postponed … the vast majority of people have been doing their part and following the rules,” Trudeau said.
“This virus means that, if we loosen up before time, all of those sacrifices could have been for nothing. We held on through what has been a very difficult year, and we now see the end in sight … But we’re not there yet.”
Moderna’s approval has been eagerly anticipated because it has less stringent freezer storage requirements than Pfizer’s vaccine, which needs “ultracold” -80 C shipping and storage conditions. Moderna’s can be kept in medical-grade minus-20 C freezers, and once thawed, has a longer shelf live, remaining stable for up to 30 days at regular refrigerator temperatures of two to eight degrees.
That means Moderna can be more easily distributed to rural and remote communities across Canada’s vast geography.
The Moderna vaccine is similar to the Pfizer vaccine that is now being used in a national vaccination campaign that began last week: both vaccines use messenger RNA, or bits of genetic coding material to stimulate an immune response to the novel coronavirus. The process does not use a weakened form of the virus itself and so does not risk transmitting the virus.
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The Moderna vaccine also requires two doses, in this case spaced 28 days apart, not 21.
Clinical trial data showed both are safe and highly effective at preventing COVID-19. No serious safety concerns were identified with either vaccine.
“Moderna is a significant, significant development,” said Dr. Isaac Bogoch, infectious disease physician and member of Ontario’s Vaccine Distribution Task Force. “I like to think I’m rather measured in my approach but I must say today’s a big day. It’s a huge deal. It’s very exciting.”
The Moderna vaccine, much more portable than Pfizer’s, can travel to long-term-care homes, remote communities, and to anyone who would be unable to walk in to one of Ontario’s existing COVID-19 vaccination centres to get their shot.
“There’s a lot of good we can do with the Moderna vaccine, especially coupled with the Pfizer vaccine,” Bogoch said. Taking a vaccination program into care homes, where 80 per cent of the country’s coronavirus deaths have occurred, is crucial. “Now we have two vaccines: one is a vaccine you bring people to and the other is the one you bring to people.”
Maj. Gen. Dany Fortin, the chief of staff at the Canadian Force’s Joint Operations Command who has been tasked with overseeing Canada’s vaccine rollout, told reporters that 240,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccine have been distributed to the provinces and territories to date.
Fortin said the federal government had completed a dry-run of the distribution of the Moderna vaccine last week.
Based on current projections, Fortin said the government expects all Canadians to have access to a vaccine by September 2021.
Moderna says it is still on track to produce between 500 million and 1 billion doses globally in 2021, and has confirmed deals to fill orders from the U.S., the European Union, Japan, Canada, Switzerland, the U.K., Israel, Qatar and other countries totalling more than 390 million to date.
Alex Boutilier is an Ottawa-based reporter covering national politics for the Star. Follow him on Twitter: @alexboutilier
Tonda MacCharles is an Ottawa-based reporter covering federal politics for the Star. Follow her on Twitter: @tondamacc
Alex McKeen is a Vancouver-based reporter for the Star. Follow her on Twitter: @alex_mckeen
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