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How much of a 'vaccine hole' is Canada currently in?

Vaxx Populi: A breakdown of doses expected versus doses received and how many people must be vaccinated every day in March to meet our first-quarter target

On Feb. 10, Toronto announced that it is setting up nine mass immunization clinics. Due to open in early April, when shipments of vaccine are expected to increase dramatically, the plan is that the city-operated sites will administer at least 120,000 doses a week, as part of a web of vaccination options that include doctor’s offices, pharmacies and mobile clinics. 

While plans like those in Toronto are being rushed to completion across the country, the immediate focus is the painfully slow number of vaccine doses that are currently arriving in Canada. Shipments that were expected to arrive have either been reduced or cancelled, creating a growing hole in first-quarter plans to vaccinate the highest-risk populations as quickly as possible. 

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Maclean’s has calculated that the vaccine deficit is more than 940,000 doses, or 27.5 per cent of the 3.4 million doses that had been expected to arrive by the end of February.

The original schedule had Pfizer doses arriving weekly and Moderna doses coming every three weeks. 

Starting early in 2021, PHAC’s vaccine rollout webpage outlined the arrival schedule to the end of February, along with planned allotments to the provinces and territories. The data from Jan. 7 was soon replaced with new, lower numbers, as first Pfizer and then Moderna announced problems: Pfizer needed to take its Belgian production facility offline so it could expand it while Moderna was struggling with supply issues. Such problems were always expected as the pharmaceutical industry geared up to produce massive quantities of vaccine, but at a time when every dose is precious, those shortfalls were painfully felt in cancelled appointments and closed vaccination clinics. 

The problems started with the shipments of the week of Jan. 18, as did a growing gap of what was expected to arrive and what was actually shipped. 

Prizer

Jan. 18: Shipment reduced by 18,525 doses (208,650 expected; 190,125 arrived)

Jan. 25: No shipment, so reduced by 208,650 doses

Feb. 2: Shipment reduced by 288,600 doses (367,575 expected; 78,975 arrived)  

Feb. 8: Shipment reduced by 297,395 doses (367,575 expected; 70,200 arrived)

Feb. 15: Shipment reduced by 36,270 doses (439,920 expected, as per change to using six doses/vial);  403,650 should arrive) 

Feb. 22: Shipment increased by 35,080 doses (439,920 expected; 475,020 should arrive)

Overall Pfizer deficit: 814,320 doses

Moderna

Feb. 2: Shipment reduced by 50,400 doses (230,400 expected; 180,000 arrived)

Feb. 22: Shipment reduced by 81,600 doses (249,600 expected, 168,000 should arrive)

Overall Moderna deficit: 132,000 doses

If all expected doses in the remainder of February arrive as planned, the overall COVID-19 vaccine hole will be 946,320 doses of both Moderna and Pfizer vaccine. 

As of Feb. 10, some 1.15 million doses have been administered, according to data collected by the COVID-19 Canada Open Data Working Group. Maj.-Gen. Dany Fortin, who is in charge of vaccine logistics and operations, and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau have stated repeatedly: Pfizer has promised to ship four million doses and Moderna has promised another two million by the end of the first quarter of 2021, meaning a combined total of six million doses by March 31. 

In addition to the planned deliveries to the end of February, Pfizer will need to ship another 2.19 million doses by March 31, while Moderna will need to ship another 1.31 million doses. 

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So, in total, another 3.5 million doses of Moderna and Pfizer vaccine should arrive in the month of March alone. (On Feb. 11, Fortin announced that Pfizer would ship 440,000 doses the week of March 1 and another 440,000 doses the week of March 8.)

As provinces and health units hold back some vials for second doses—as of Feb. 10, 90 per cent of doses given to the provinces have been administered—even an assumption that Canada uses 90 per cent of those shipments promised in March would mean distributing more than 3.1 million doses during that month, and getting them in people’s arms. That would mean at least 100,000 vaccinations a day, seven days a week. 

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Only 30,000 vaccines were distributed on Feb. 10, according to data collected by the COVID-19 Canada Open Data Working Group. Cities and provinces may have to push forward their mass immunization plans to meet that end of March goal, but it is doable, especially as the need is so great. And public health units have years of experience in meeting what seem like difficult goals. Once it got shipments of vaccine, Niagara Region Public Health in Ontario took just nine days to vaccinate all of its 32 long-term care homes against COVID-19. 

As Canada rolls out the country’s most complex vaccination project to date, Maclean’s presents Vaxx Populi, an ongoing series in which Patricia Treble tackles the most pressing questions related to the new COVID-19 vaccines. Send us a question you’d like answered at vaccines@macleans.ca. If you have specific questions about your own health, we recommend consulting a family doctor or the local public health authority in your area.