OTTAWA — Canada’s vaccine supply chain continues to be dogged by delayed shipments and manufacturing stumbles as provinces struggle to plan second-dose rollouts and reopening plans.
Ottawa admitted Thursday that Canada will not receive a promised total of between 48 million and 50 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines by the end of June.
Instead, manufacturers have only confirmed deliveries of 40 million doses by that date and 50 million by the end of July, at the earliest.
Moderna’s inability to confirm shipment from its European production sites is the latest headache for federal and provincial officials. It had promised to ship 12.3 million doses to Canada between April and June, but has only delivered some 3.7 million since April 1.
On Thursday, Brig.-Gen. Krista Brodie, head of the federal vaccine logistics operation, confirmed another two million Moderna doses will arrive in the next few weeks in separate shipments of about 500,000 next week and 1.5 million mid-June. But the company will have to make up a shortfall of about 6.6 million doses to meet its contractual obligation.
Federal officials could not offer a clear explanation of why Moderna could not confirm shipments but said it is "committed" to meeting its obligation, and said they are "confident" it will ship more.
Moderna cited backlogs last month due to "quality assurance" but a senior government official told the Star this week it remains unclear exactly what the ongoing issue is.
"We expect Moderna to continue to ramp up its deliveries in the second part of June with millions of additional doses to be delivered," said Brodie.
She said despite that, there is a "concerted effort" underway to ensure that provinces have the capacity to move as many vaccines as become available "as quickly as possible into the arms of Canadians."
Moderna’s latest problems come on top of protectionist holdbacks of AstraZeneca and COVISHIELD vaccines by the U.S. and India, and the questions about an ingredient in Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen doses, some 300,000 of which are sitting in freezers while under review by Canada and the U.S. Canada contracted for up to 38 million of the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
The bulk of vaccines destined for Canadian arms will come from Pfizer-BioNTech — with shipments now arriving at between two million and 2.4 million doses a week — for a total of 48 million doses to be delivered before the end of September 2021.
It is also unclear when Canada will have enough supply to allow provinces to reach the desired vaccination target of having 75 per cent of Canadians vaccinated with a first dose, and 20 per cent with a second. That’s when federal models say reopening plans could be considered, in a staggered fashion.
It is also the target Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is using, saying that will be a factor in any decision on reopening international borders, including with the U.S.
However no federal official has said when Canada might hit those ratios.
On Thursday, deputy chief public health officer Dr. Howard Njoo said to ask the provinces, which are in charge of vaccination.
Asked when the supply might allow provinces to hit those numbers, Brodie and Njoo offered nothing other than talking points about Ottawa working with provinces.
Last week, Public Health Agency of Canada president Iain Stewart told MPs that he expects to that 20 per cent of Canadians will have received two doses of vaccine "toward late June" and that 50 per cent of Canadians could have two doses of vaccine by "the back end of July or August, in around there."
The supply problems are leading provinces to juggle their plans.
B.C.’s chief medical health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said Thursday that British Columbia will move up its plan to shorten vaccine dosing intervals from 16 weeks down to about eight weeks, with those at greatest risk once again targeted earliest for their booster shots. "Second doses are incredibly important for all of us," she said.
But Henry flagged the Moderna supply problem means that the province may offer Pfizer as a second dose to those who received Moderna vaccine as their first dose.
"This is only an issue with Moderna," said Henry, promising "we will try as best we can" to give people the same vaccine for both doses.
She assured residents that the option of mixing the two mRNA vaccines, though made by different manufacturers, is both safe and effective.
Federal numbers show that Ottawa has distributed more than 26 million vaccine doses so far, with more than 10 million doses of vaccines to Ontario, but the province has administered just 8.5 million doses to date.
No official would comment on why that is, and how much of the 1.5 million in the balance might be AstraZeneca doses.
Tonda MacCharles is an Ottawa-based reporter covering federal politics for the Star. Follow her on Twitter: @tondamacc