The federal government is buying more doses of the COVID-19 vaccine from Pfizer-BioNTech as it moves to offset reduction in supply from another producer. And while it offered to help Ontario distribute its shots, the hot-spot province turned down that assistance as the premier piled on more restrictions on Friday.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced Friday a contract with Pfizer for eight million additional doses of its vaccine hours after Canada said Moderna would slash its deliveries in half through the rest of April.
The increase in Pfizer supply is coming at a time when COVID activity is rapidly spreading in parts of the country, including Canada's most populous province.
Trudeau said the federal government will provide more relief to Ontario, including deploying the Canadian Red Cross to help with their mobile vaccination teams; setting up additional hospital beds in Toronto and Hamilton; and sending equipment and drugs.
"In many places, numbers are higher than they’ve ever been before," Trudeau said. "And far too many hospitals are already stretched far too thin. ... So we're going to do whatever it takes to help."
Ontario logged a record 4,812 new cases on Friday and 25 more deaths related to the virus. Its science advisers presented stark new projections predicting daily infections could soon approach 20,000, and that extending stay-at-home orders and administering 100,000 vaccine doses per day would be needed to flatten the curve.
Premier Doug Ford struck a dire tone as he announced a suite of severe measures to supplement the extension of the province's stay-at-home order for another two weeks.
"We're losing the battle between the variants and vaccines," Ford told a news conference. "We are on our heels. But if we dig in, remain steadfast, we can turn this around."
New restrictions include stricter limits on interprovincial travel, outdoor gatherings, businesses and religious services, and shutting down non-essential construction. Police are vested with special powers to enforce public health protocols.
Ontario also made an appeal to other provinces to send health-care workers to alleviate pressure on its hospitals.
However, the premier seemed more tepid about Trudeau's offer to help with the vaccine rollout. Spokeswoman Ivana Yelich said the gesture was appreciated, but the province would not need the Red Cross to help administer vaccines "unless it is matched with an increase in supply."
"This isn't a capacity issue," Ford told reporters, "it's a supply issue."
Data from the federal government shows Ontario has received more than 4.8 million vaccine doses. The provincial data shows 3.6 million have been administered as of Thursday evening, suggesting 1.2 million doses are still to be used.
Earlier Friday, the Canadian Medical Association said further restrictions must be considered in regions experiencing rapid rates of COVID-19 transmission, including a "total lockdown" in Ontario.
"That means anything that's truly not essential ... needs to be closed completely for a period of time," said Dr. Katharine Smart, the president-elect of the CMA. "These half-closures and half-measures and not working."
Rapid growth in COVID activity continues to be seen as variants of concern escalate in parts of the country.
Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada's chief medical officer, said the ramped-up vaccine rollout has been positive, however, with seven million residents inoculated this week.
"Vaccines are reducing severe illness, death and outbreaks in high-risk settings and populations that were targeted in that initial phase of vaccination," she said. "These benefits are building, and they will be the bridge that takes us all to greater safety."
Health Canada said Friday that it's reviewing a submission from Pfizer-BioNTech to expand the use of its COVID-19 vaccine to young people aged 12 and older.
Canada's expanded contract with Pfizer will kick in next month, Procurement Minister Anita Anand said, with the first four million of the new eight million doses arriving in May.
She said two million more doses will come in June and July, respectively, and Pfizer is also moving another 400,000 doses from the third quarter into June.
Canada's initial shipment of approximately 300,000 doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine will also arrive during the week of April 27, Anand said, to be delivered to the provinces at the beginning of May.
The increased Pfizer doses help offset another production delay from Moderna, which will ship 650,000 doses of its vaccine by the end of the month, instead of the expected 1.2 million.
The company also told Canada that one to two million doses of the 12.3 million scheduled for delivery in the second quarter may be delayed until the third quarter.
"We are disappointed, and while we understand the challenges facing suppliers in the current global market for vaccines, our government will continue to press Moderna to fulfil its commitments," Anand said in a statement.
Moderna said in a statement there has been a "shortfall" in estimated doses from the European supply chain, and that it will be "making adjustments" to expected delivery quantities in a number of countries, including Canada.
Trudeau said he was "concerned" about the delays and production challenges facing Moderna, but added that Pfizer has been reliable. He said its doses will make up the "bulk of vaccines being given to Canadians in the coming months."
Quebec reported 1,527 new COVID cases on Friday while Manitoba reported 127. New Brunswick had nine new cases and Newfoundland had three.
British Columbia set another daily hospitalization record at 425 people including 127 in intensive care. The province recorded 1,005 new cases and six deaths.
In Alberta, there were 1,616 more COVID-19 infections but no additional deaths. There are 423 people in hospital.
Meanwhile, the CMA released a statement calling for "extraordinary" measures, including sharing provincial health-care resources and dropping the per capita approach to vaccine distribution, to address the COVID-19 crisis unfolding in several provinces.
The CMA said it wants the federal government to consider re-prioritizing its vaccine distribution strategy to focus on urgent areas instead of distributing to provinces on a per-capita basis.
Trudeau said conversations with provinces about vaccine allocation have been "ongoing."
"We're happy to continue to work with the provinces on adjusting (vaccine distribution) as the provinces see necessary," he said.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 16, 2021.
Melissa Couto Zuber, The Canadian Press