The first doses of the first COVID-19 vaccine to be approved in Canada could be injected into the arms of Manitobans as early as next week, but some priority groups, such as remote northern First Nations, might have to wait longer.
On Monday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that 249,000 doses of the two-dose Pfizer vaccine are expected to be distributed across Canada starting next week, pending approval from Health Canada this week.
At a news conference on Monday, Manitoba’s Chief Provincial Public Health Officer Dr. Brent Roussin said the province is prepared to receive any doses the federal government ships its way, but any doses the province receives would be “very limited in quantity.”
“The sooner we are able to receive the vaccine, the better,” Roussin said.
“We’re certainly prepared to receive vaccine at any time now, but we just need to set up the expectations that this is going to be a very limited supply, especially early on. And so it will be very minimal scope on who we can immunize with it.”
Getting the vaccine out to everyone who needs it will be “a huge undertaking,” Roussin said, but planning for the rollout has made significant progress and he expects details to be announced in the near future.
Storage freezers needed
Last week, Premier Brian Pallister said that the province had acquired one of the freezers needed to store the Pfizer vaccine.
In coordination with the provinces and territories, the federal government has begun setting up sites in 14 urban areas.
The Pfizer vaccine must be stored at an extremely low temperature of -80 C, which poses logistical challenges for distributing the vaccine to remote areas.
“We have been working closely with the First Nations and territories and they have indicated their preference for a product that will be easier to handle,” Maj.-Gen. Dany Fortin, vice-president of logistics and operations at the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC), said in French at a news conference on Monday. PHAC is coordinating the vaccine rollout nationally.
Canada is set to receive enough doses to vaccinate up to three million people within the first three months of 2021. That will include doses of the Moderna vaccine, which must be stored at -20 C and is therefore easier to distribute.
“We have worked very closely with the premiers in the northern territories, as well as Indigenous leaders across the country,” said Trudeau.
“We know that they are a priority population and therefore will be part of those initial three million doses we’re expecting in the beginning of 2021.”
The National Advisory Committee on Immunization has identified four priority groups for the initial doses, starting with residents and staff in long-term care facilities, followed by all Canadians over the age of 80, front-line health workers, and Indigenous communities.
Once the initial 14 distribution centres have been set up and the government is “comfortable” with the process, more sites will be added, Fortin said.
The exact locations of the 14 vaccination sites have not yet been announced, and it’s not clear how many of those doses Manitoba will receive. The limited quantity of vaccines available in Manitoba could persist into the New Year, Roussin said.
“So we’ll have very strict criteria that we’ll have to follow,” he said.
Last week, Pallister said the federal government planned to distribute the vaccines to the provinces on a per capita basis, and that they planned to hold back a portion of the doses for First Nations.
This would leave Manitoba with the fewest doses for the rest of its population, Pallister said, because First Nations people make up a larger share of the population than any other province.
“This is unfair, and this is not what our Indigenous leaders want,” Pallister said.
Prime Minister Trudeau did not answer directly when asked whether Pallister’s description of the federal government’s plans was accurate, but said they are working on getting the vaccines out as quickly as possible.
“In terms of distribution, I think we all understand that getting vaccines first to the most vulnerable people is exactly what we need to do, and that’s what we’re focused on.”
In a news release Monday, Manitoba Metis Federation president David Chartrand called on the federal government to set aside doses for the Métis community.
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