Canada has reached agreements to procure up to 194 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines, with the option to purchase an additional 220 million.
At a COVID-19 press briefing on Thursday, health officials announced that Canada has deals with seven vaccine manufacturers, five of which are “firm.”
Dr. Howard Njoo, Canada’s Deputy Chief Public Health Officer, says that vaccines can be accepted into the country even before they have been approved by Health Canada. However, they would not be distributed to the provinces until they have been authorized.
Vaccines are expected to be available in the first quarter of 2021, he said, but only three million doses will be administered at that time.
Earlier this month, Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer, Dr. Theresa Tam, said that vaccines would be “limited” when first available.
“While that supply will increase over time, it does mean that federal, provincial, and territorial governments will have to make important decisions on how to use the initial vaccine supply,” Tam said on November 6.
“In the meantime, it is crucial that we continue to layer on individual protections that we know to be effective in keeping infection rates low.”
Dr. Supriya Sharma, a senior medical advisor with Health Canada, said that the agency will make a decision on the Pfizer vaccine around the same time as the United States. A decision from the FDA is expected around December 10.
Sharma said that it can normally take up to a year for Health Canada to review a vaccine and grant its approval. The vaccine from Pfizer is the furthest along in the approval process of the seven, she said.
Due to the urgent need for COVID-19 vaccines, an interim order has provided them with the ability to fast-track the process, including the option to review data on a rolling basis instead of once all trials are completed.
Arianne Reza, the Deputy Minister of Procurement and Public Services Canada, said the agency has been working to obtain enough of the necessary supplies — such as needles and freezers — to be able to quickly administer and distribute a vaccine once it has been approved.
Canada currently has enough needles and syringes to administer nearly 25 million doses of a vaccine, with more supplies arriving each month, Reza said. They’ve also purchased 26 freezers with -80°C capability, and 100 that can operate at -20°C to store vaccines as well as dry ice.
Some of the initial vaccines will need to be kept under very cold temperatures. The Pfizer vaccine needs to be at -75°C.
Once approved, the first round of vaccines will go to at-risk populations, including the elderly and frontline workers.
To date, Canada has seen 347,466 cases of COVID-19 and 11,710 deaths.