To meet the federal government’s estimate that 14.5 million Canadians could be fully inoculated by the end of June with the approved Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines, the country will need to vaccinate 11 times more people per day than it currently does, a Star analysis has found.
Assuming the supply of vaccines from the two manufacturers is delivered as expected without interruption, Canada will have to vaccinate a minimum of 221,500 people per day starting today — a nearly 11-fold increase in the current national daily average of 20,438 — to give two shots to 14.5 million citizens by June 30 as per estimates in a new Public Health Agency of Canada timeline released this week.
Assuming that three other vaccines currently under review by Health Canada — AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson, and Novavax — are approved, the timeline projects that as many as 24.5 million Canadians could be fully vaccinated by the end of June. But the Star’s analysis shows that would mean the country would have to administer about 18 times more vaccines per day, or 378,103 jabs, than it does currently.
“It’s very ambitious,” said Tim Sly, an epidemiologist and professor emeritus at Ryerson University’s School of Occupational and Public Health. “In fact so ambitious that my sort of spidey sense is up there wondering whether we can get anywhere close to that.”
He added that the government’s projections assume everything rolls out as planned.
“Maybe they can do it. When the flu vaccine is in full swing, they manage to get a very large number vaccinated … but this is enormous magnitudes more than that.”
The latest federal figures show that 1.8 million doses of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines combined have been distributed across Canada, while nearly 1.4 million people have received at least one shot. That represents just 3.7 per cent of Canadians who have received one dose more than two months after vaccinations began.
The federal government is forecasting the arrival of 2.7 million more doses of the Pfizer vaccine between now and the beginning of April, and 168,000 more doses of Moderna by the end of February. In recent weeks, both companies cut back on their shipments to Canada due to production facility expansion work in Pfizer’s case and supply chain issues encountered by Moderna.
Still, the federal government says it is expecting 23 million doses combined to be delivered by the two companies between April and June.
Dr. Isaac Bogoch, an infectious disease specialist at Toronto General Hospital and a member of Ontario’s COVID-19 Vaccine Distribution Task Force, says the federal government’s vaccination timelines are realistic and that the province has the capacity to “scale up tremendously.”
He noted, however, that the ramping up of vaccinations in Ontario won’t begin until around late March or early April.
Ontario is currently still in Phase 1 of its vaccination plan, which prioritized seniors living in congregate care, patient-facing health-care workers, on-reserve First Nations residents and urban Indigenous populations. Phase 1 was recently expanded to include people over the age of 80 living in the community. Phase 2, to begin in late March or early April, will prioritize older adults decreasing in five-year increments from 79 years of age, front-line essential workers such as first responders and teachers, and individuals with high-risk chronic conditions, as well as non-patient-facing health-care workers. At the same time, the province is partnering with public health units, primary care providers and pharmacies to provide more vaccination options beyond the 23 hospital-based vaccination clinics currently operating across Ontario.
Bogoch said that all of Ontario’s 34 public health units have submitted plans on how mass immunization clinics will be run when vaccines arrive, such as convention centres or drive-through set ups, as well as local community centres in vulnerable neighbourhoods.
“All of these, from mass vaccine centres, pharmacies and primary care, when you add this together, you can vaccinate thousands and thousands of people per day in each public health unit. And it adds up,” he said.
Retired general Rick Hillier, chair of the province’s vaccine task force, told the Star’s Tonda MacCharles last week that provided there is supply, public health units will be expected to deliver as many as 10,000 vaccines daily and some areas as many as 100,000 per day.
The Star’s analysis shows that if these kinds of daily vaccination numbers can be achieved quickly, there is indeed a chance Ontario can vaccinate as many as 4.5 million people by the end of June, given that the task force is expecting Ontario to receive 9.1 million doses between March and June.
That would represent 37.4 per cent of the population in Ontario eligible to receive the vaccine (children are currently not approved to receive any COVID-19 vaccine).
“Of course, this is completely dependent on receiving actual vaccines in a timely manner,” said Bogoch. “The sooner we get them, the faster we can scale up.”