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Canada expected to receive 168,000 doses of Moderna vaccine by month’s end, Trudeau says

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced today that the promising COVID-19 vaccine candidate from Massachusetts-based Moderna will be available in Canada by the end of the month if the shot secures the necessary regulatory approvals.

Health Canada regulators are in the final stages of the review process for this vaccine. A final decision on authorization could come as early as this week.

If it’s approved, Trudeau said, Canada will receive up to 168,000 doses of the two-dose Moderna vaccine before the end of December. Trudeau said deliveries are slated to begin within 48 hours of Health Canada’s authorization.

“As with the early shipments of the Pfizer vaccine, this moves us even further forward on getting Canadians protected as quickly as possible,” Trudeau said. “We are very, very well positioned.”

With recent polls showing that a sizeable number of Canadians will refuse a vaccine altogether, or will wait some time before lining up for a shot, Trudeau said he wants Canadians to be assured that the science will not be rushed and Canada’s regulators will only approve a product that works.

WATCH: Prime Minister Justin Trudeau discusses delivery of the Moderna vaccine

Federal Government has signed a contract with Moderna for early vaccine doses. If approved by Health Canada, doses could be sent by end of the year.  1:12

“The approval of vaccines is not a political issue. Experts at Health Canada will do their jobs, and this is what they do for all drugs and vaccines in normal times,” he said in French. “The work has to be done without being compromised.”

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration will hear Thursday from an outside advisory panel on whether the vaccine is safe for use in the United States. FDA’s own scientists today endorsed it as safe and effective.

Northern, rural and remote communities to get Moderna shot first

The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine was approved by Health Canada regulators last week and vaccinations started in some provinces yesterday — but its stringent temperature requirements for storage mean the shot isn’t the best fit for much of the country.

Northern, rural and remote communities simply don’t have the health care infrastructure to safely store the Pfizer vaccine at ultra-low temperatures.

The Moderna product must be kept at -20 C — many degrees above the -70 to -80 C range that Pfizer demands for its shot — and there are more commercial-grade refrigerators on hand across the country that can store this vaccine.

Because the territories will not receive the Pfizer vaccine, Trudeau said the first Moderna doses will be directed to northern regions, remote and Indigenous communities. He said this vaccine is easier to ship over long distances in winter conditions.

“We are working to ensure the logistics planning is ready when vaccines are available, and have already shipped medical-grade freezers to the north. As soon as we get the green light, we’ll be ready to go,” Trudeau said.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Health Minister Patty Hajdu look at empty Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine vials during a visit to the Ottawa Hospital. Trudeau said Tuesday 200,000 Pfizer doses will arrive in Canada next week. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

Trudeau also said today that Canada will receive about 200,000 more Pfizer shots next week, while the number of sites where this temperature-sensitive shot can be administered will increase from just 14 this week to 70.

In total, six million Moderna and Pfizer vaccines are expected to be delivered to Canada by the end of March 2021.

Long-term care and retirement home residents and staff, the elderly, front line health care workers and some Indigenous adults will receive shots in this first phase of distribution. The vaccination campaign for other populations will begin in April.

Maj.- Gen. Dany Fortin, the military commander leading vaccination logistics at the Public Health Agency of Canada, said Canada is ready to receive the Moderna product and planning is already “well underway” to ensure the provinces and territories are well-positioned to begin administering the shot.

“This week, we’re executing a dry run exercise, similar to what we did last week with the Pfizer product,” Fortin said. “That allows us to really tweak, adjust as we’re about to embark on the distribution.”

Maj.-Gen. Dany Fortin, left, Public Services and Procurement Minister Anita Anand, centre, and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, right, provide an update on the COVID-19 pandemic in Ottawa on Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2020. Fortin said logistics planning for the Moderna vaccine is “well underway.” (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

Unlike the Pfizer vaccine, which is being delivered directly by the company to points of use, the federal government will be responsible for the logistics associated with importing the Moderna shot from Europe and distributing the product to the provinces and territories.

“That is work that is going on now to ensure that the logistics are in place to go and pick up the Moderna vaccine,” Public Services and Procurement Minister Anita Anand said.

Moderna, which has never produced a vaccine on this scale, is working with multiple partners to produce its vaccine. Switzerland-based Lonza, one of the world’s largest pharmaceutical services companies, will produce the key active ingredient for the vaccine at plants in New Hampshire and Switzerland.

Canada has ordered 40 million Moderna shots

In August, Canada placed an order for 20 million doses of the Moderna product. Earlier this month, Anand announced the government would exercise its contractual option for 20 million more shots in 2021. Canada could still buy up to another 16 million doses.

Trudeau attributed the December shipments of the Moderna vaccine to Canada’s early commitment to buy the product. 

“Like the co-founder of Moderna pointed out a few weeks ago, Canada was among the first to pre-order their vaccine. That, combined with our solid plan on vaccine rollout, is why we have an agreement for early doses,” he said.

The U.S. is slated to receive approximately 20 million doses of the Moderna vaccine this month — or 20 per cent of that country’s initial order of 100 million. This is more than the 0.84 per cent Canada will receive of its initial order.

Asked to explain the discrepancy between what Canada and the U.S. are expecting to receive in December, Anand said she couldn’t comment on what the Americans have planned.

WATCH: Public Services and Procurement Minister Anita Anand on delivery timelines for the Moderna vaccine

Procurement Minister Anita Anand is asked why the U.S. is slated to receive 20 per cent of its initial order of Moderna vaccines by the end of the month, while Canada is expecting 0.84 per cent of its original order. 1:33

“It’s a difficult question for me to answer in terms of what the United States did in its management of the crisis and negotiation of its contracts,” Anand told CBC’s Power & Politics.

“We are one of the first countries to inoculate our population and begin that process of mass vaccinations.”

U.S. President Donald Trump’s Operation Warp Speed largely bankrolled the vaccine’s development, the clinical trial process and the large-scale manufacturing operations, spending $4.1 billion so far to support Moderna.

On Monday, the U.S. agreed to purchase 100 million more doses of the vaccine, which was also co-developed by scientists at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID).

Moderna vaccine 94.1 per cent effect in clinical trials

Health Canada has been reviewing Moderna’s clinical trial data on a rolling basis since Oct. 12.

The rolling review process — a policy shift implemented because of the urgency of this pandemic — allows drug makers to bypass the lengthy timelines they normally face when launching a new vaccine.

The company’s final clinical trial data are encouraging, demonstrating that the vaccine is 94.1 per cent effective at preventing COVID-19 and 100 per cent effective at preventing severe cases of the disease.

In July, Moderna began administering its vaccine and a placebo to 30,000 clinical trial participants in the U.S.

Of the 15,000 people who received the vaccine, only 11 developed COVID-19. None of those 11 people became severely ill. Among the 15,000 people who received the placebo — a shot of saline that does nothing — 185 developed the novel coronavirus. Thirty of those 185 patients reported severe illness and one died.

Health Canada is currently reviewing other vaccines from companies like AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson’s pharmaceutical division, Janssen.

In total, Canada has ordered roughly 418 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines from seven different companies — an insurance policy against the risk that some of the vaccines in development prove to be ineffective.

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