First single-shot COVID vaccines to hit provinces next week as part of coming surge

The first single-shot COVID-19 vaccine available in Canada will start going out to the provinces and territories early next week.

The country’s first shipment of 300,000 vaccines made by Janssen, the pharmaceutical arm of Johnson & Johnson, arrived in the country Wednesday night and is now being thawed and repacked for a cross-country journey, Major-General Dany Fortin told reporters during the weekly vaccine update on Thursday.

The doses are part of what is expected to be a “massive increase” in vaccine supply in the coming weeks according to the officer tasked with overseeing federal distribution. The increase is being driven in particular by shipments of Pfizer, which are expected to double to two million doses per week beginning next month.

It is this increase that prompted Ontario to announce Thursday that it expects everyone over 18 to be eligible for a shot by the end of May.

Over the last four months the federal government has delivered almost 15 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine to the provinces and territories, of which roughly 13 million have made it into arms.

But the coming month could see upwards of nine million shots landing on Canadian soil. That would mean a 60 per cent increase in the number of vaccines in the country in just one month.

In addition to the Janssen doses and about eight million shots of Pfizer, Canada is expecting slightly more than a million doses of Moderna, to be distributed the week of May 10.

The American pharmaceutical company has hit some production stumbles resulting in delayed shipments. Fortin said officials are having discussions with Moderna to try to sort out a predictable delivery schedule so the provinces can better plan their vaccination schedules.

Still, he said the company intends to “come as close as possible” to the 12.3 million doses they’ve promised in the second quarter of the year.

Shipments of AstraZeneca have also slowed, after India shut down exports of vaccine made there as the country battles what is currently the most severe COVID outbreak on the planet.

But Anita Anand, the federal procurement minister, has previously said the vaccine made in partnership with the University of Oxford is expected to scale back up in June, with over four million doses expected, including 1.5 million from India.

The federal government continues to face pressure over the speed of the vaccine rollout. Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole argued Friday that officials needed to find more shots so that every adult could get a dose by the May long weekend.

He also accused the Liberals of ignoring science by allowing the time between vaccine doses to exceed manufacturers’ recommendations, though it wasn’t actually the Liberal government’s call.

Provinces adopted that strategy after the National Advisory Committee on Immunization signed off, saying that having more people receive one dose was paramount.

But O’Toole said that decision was prompted by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s own failures.

“Mr. Trudeau is deviating from the directed use by the manufacturer, not based on science, but based on his failure to secure sufficient quantities,” he told a news conference in Ottawa, laying out his party’s motion calling for all adult Canadians to be vaccinated by the May long weekend.

The Tories are also calling for a national strategy on rapid testing and screening, which O’Toole said is crucial to get the country reopened.

“On this current trajectory, Canadians will be facing increased restrictions and lockdowns in multiple provinces and we will not see restrictions lift in time for summer,” he said.

Health officials have maintained that Canadians must continue to wear masks and follow public health guidelines regardless of vaccination status, and that restrictions aren’t expected to be lifted until at least three-quarters of the country is vaccinated.

Still, the vaccination campaign is already netting some wins.

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The rate of COVID-19 among First Nations people who live on reserve is currently the lowest it’s been since last November, said Dr. Tom Wong, chief medical officer of public health for Indigenous Services Canada.

First Nation communities have been disproportionately affected by the virus, but now almost 60 per cent of adults have received at least one dose.

It’s a milestone Wong credited to the “tremendous efforts” of Indigenous leaders and front-line workers in communities across the country.

With files from Stephanie Levitz

TORONTO STAR