Canada’s vaccination campaign is facing yet another hurdle in the race to inoculate people against the deadly novel coronavirus with the announcement today that Moderna will delay some shipments of its product next month.
The Massachusetts-based company was set to send some 230,400 shots to Canada next week, with 249,600 shots to follow three weeks later, but those forecasts have now been up-ended, a testament to just how uncertain the government’s vaccine projections have become.
Moderna is expected to ship between 20-25 per cent less product to Canada in February than originally planned, much like the delays that France and Italy also reported today after conversations with the drugmaker. Next week’s shipment has been revised down to 180,000 doses.
The delays mean tens of thousands of doses will be punted to a later date as COVID-19 related deaths in Canada near the 20,000 mark.
“We will always share the most accurate information we have, but in the short-term those numbers can fluctuate. But as global production continues to pick up, there will be more stability in the system,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told reporters Friday.
Trudeau said the Moderna disruptions are tied to “certain concerns around the manufacturing process.”
“This temporary delay doesn’t change the fact that we will still receive two million doses of the Moderna vaccine before the end of March, as we’ve been saying for months,” he said. “We know that this is something that we’re going to have to keep watching very, very closely.”
WATCH | Trudeau updates Canadians on COVID-19 vaccine delays:
Second vaccine delivery delay
This is the second time in less than a month that Canada has had to contend with delivery delays from a pharmaceutical company.
Pfizer is shipping roughly 80 per cent fewer shots than it initially promised over the next four weeks as it grapples with the fallout from upgrades to its manufacturing plant in Puurs, Belgium.
Despite Trudeau’s assurances, the delays mean that Canada will struggle to meet its target of six million Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna shots delivered by the end of March, a rosy forecast that was already in doubt because of the Pfizer supply issues.
To meet that target, more than 3.5 million doses of the two products will have to be delivered in the month of March alone — or roughly 885,000 doses a week.
Pfizer may send some doses ahead of schedule
Trudeau also said Friday he had another “very positive” and “encouraging” call with Dr. Albert Bourla, the CEO of Pfizer, and the two discussed “Canada receiving more doses ahead of schedule starting in the spring.”
“We’ll have more details to share on that next week,” Trudeau said of the possibility of more Pfizer doses arriving in the second quarter of this year. He said Pfizer may be able to move up the delivery of some doses that were earmarked for later in the year.
WATCH: Trudeau speaks about delays to the Moderna shipments
“Production lines around the globe are adapting to high demand from every country,” Trudeau said.
The upgrades at the Belgian facility will give the company the capacity to pump out up to two billion shots this year — up from its initial projection of 1.3 billion doses in 2021.
EU introduces export controls on shots
The Moderna delays also come on the day the European Union released details about new export controls, temporary measures designed to track vaccines leaving the 27-member bloc to ensure supply on the continent.
The measure will require companies seeking to ship shots outside the Eurozone to obtain prior authorization. The rules will allow countries to block exports or impose conditions on companies if they aren’t delivering a sufficient number of dosage to EU members.
EU political leaders say they are concerned the companies are cutting supplies intended for EU countries in order to sell doses to other nations at higher prices.
AstraZeneca, a British-Swedish company headquartered in Cambridge, England, has delivered millions of shots to the U.K., but has warned it wouldn’t be able to meet EU delivery targets — prompting anger from European leaders.
“We now need transparency on where the vaccines we secured are going and ensure that they reach our citizens. We are accountable towards the European citizens and taxpayers — that is a key principle for us,” Stella Kyriakides, the EU’s health and food safety commissioner, said in a statement.
These new regulations could prove disruptive to Canada’s supply, as all of the Pfizer-BioNTech shots destined for this country are shipped from the company’s Belgian facility.
While the EU exempted products destined to some countries — including some neighbouring non-EU states and Middle Eastern countries, among others — Australia, Canada, the U.K., and the U.S. were not on that list.
However, International Trade Minister Mary Ng said in the Commons Friday that she doesn’t expect the new export controls to impact Canada’s shipments.
Health Canada decision on AstraZeneca expected ‘in the coming days’
Beyond the two products already approved, Health Canada regulators are reviewing the clinical trial data for the AstraZenenca shot, and another promising vaccine candidate from Johnson & Johnson’s pharmaceutical division, Janssen.
The EU’s medicines agency approved the AstraZeneca vaccine Friday, following the lead of other countries around the world that have given the green light to a shot that was co-developed with researchers at the University of Oxford.
The shot has an efficacy rate between 70 per cent and 90 per cent, depending on the manner in which the doses are given.
Health Canada has been reviewing the product on a rolling basis since Oct. 1 — collecting and analyzing data as it becomes available rather than waiting for a final submission — and the department is expected to make a decision about the product “in the coming days,” a spokesperson said in a statement.
“While the department collaborates with other regulators, it remains committed to conducting an independent and thorough scientific review of all COVID-19 vaccines,” the spokesperson said.