Delivery Delays Further Hampering Slow Vaccine Rollout

January 27, 2021 Updated: January 27, 2021

With hopes that the COVID-19 vaccine would enable life to return to something resembling normalcy, Canada’s slow rollout, now exacerbated by shipment delays, is the subject of much scrutiny.

“A lot of people … have begun to follow provincial and national politics more closely because of these developments,” says Allan Tupper, a political science professor at the University of British Columbia.

A shipment of 208,650 doses of the Pfizer vaccine slated to arrive the week of Jan. 24 was cancelled, and the shipment of 366,000 expected to be delivered the week of Feb. 1 has been reduced to 79,000. The disruptions are due to renovations at Pfizer’s plant in Belgium.

The delays were also top of the agenda as members of Parliament returned to the House of Commons on Jan. 25 after a month-long break, with Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole accusing the Liberals of not doing enough to ensure a stable supply of vaccines.

“They’ve known for months there was going to be problems with production. They didn’t plan for it,” O’Toole said in the House on Jan. 25.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau replied that Canada will be receiving hundreds of thousands of doses later in February and is “still on track to vaccinating over 3 million Canadians by the end of Q1 and everyone who wants it by September.”

Pfizer delivery forecasts have been scrubbed from Health Canada’s website, prompting further criticism from O’Toole.

“Unknown means there is no real plan,” he said. “Canadians are worried. We’re in the second wave of the pandemic, there’s UK strains, and this week we’re receiving zero Pfizer vaccines.”

More bad news came on Jan. 26, when Europe warned drug manufacturers that it might impose export controls on the vaccines it had invested billions to help develop. This could jeopardize Canada’s vaccine deliveries, since vaccines by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna, Canada’s current suppliers, are made in Europe.

Tupper told The Epoch Times that when it comes to COVID-19 vaccines, “the political stakes are substantial for several reasons. This is an important measure of competence during this COVID period.”

He said premiers may also pay a political price if vaccines are delayed.

“The provinces have to get their priority lists updated, cleared, and made visible to people, and then they have to deliver. So it’s a much more rigorous and quite a different process than the federal government has to engage in,” he said.

Just 2.2 percent of Canadians have been vaccinated for COVID-19 as of Jan. 26. This compares poorly with Israel (46.7 percent), the UK (10.8 percent), and the United States (7.1 percent), but favourably with Germany (2.3 percent) and France (1.6 percent). However, the EU will receive 92 percent of the Pfizer vaccines that it was originally scheduled to receive for the week of Feb. 1, according to The Associated Press.

Canada currently ranks 18th in the world for vaccine rollout, behind Italy and Romania, according to the Global News vaccine tracker.

Ian Lee, associate professor of management at Carleton University, said the downside of decades of efforts by successive governments to minimize pharmaceutical profits are now becoming evident.

“I think that we’re paying the price for creating a very hostile climate for pharmaceutical companies. They’re not going to move heaven and earth to make sure that we’re at the front of the line—they’re going to look after the other countries where they have big investments.”

On Jan. 26, human clinical trials began in Toronto for a COVID-19 vaccine by Calgary-based company Providence Therapeutics. But commercialization of the vaccine is not expected to begin until the end of 2021 or early 2022, pending positive results. It’s the first fully made-in-Canada COVID-19 vaccine to reach this stage of development.

Lee notes that a proper response to the pandemic involves more than vaccination. He believes a tandem approach of rapid testing along with vaccination could lead to great strides in getting the economy back on its feet.

“Rapid testing in the major areas where there’s high volumes of people, in conjunction with rolling out the vaccine as rapidly as possible, would go an enormously long distance towards bringing the economy back,” he said.

“Those are the two keys, not lockdowns. … That’s what’s going to bring the crisis to an end, that’s what’s going to bring the economy back. Everything else is just talk.”