AstraZeneca doses from U.S. will arrive next week, but further shipments need approval

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Canada expects to receive 1.5 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine next week through a sharing deal with the United States, but officials say further shipments from the U.S. could hinge on the passing of more regulatory approval.

“Public Services and Procurement Canada has recently negotiated the delivery of 1.5 million doses from the U.S., expected to arrive in Canada in the next week,” Maj.-Gen. Dany Fortin, the head of Canada’s COVID-19 vaccine distribution team, said at a news conference Thursday.

“When we have a confirmed delivery date to Canada, this quantity will be added to the quarterly distribution goal of vaccine doses.”

Canada has been in the midst of finalizing an agreement with its neighbour to the south that would see Ottawa receive 1.5 million doses of the AstraZeneca shot as a “loan.” In other words, Canada will eventually have to return the favour.

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Through a bilateral agreement, 20 million doses of AstraZeneca’s vaccine are expected to funnel into Canada from manufacturing plants in the U.S. over the second and third quarters of this year.

Joelle Paquette, director-general responsible for vaccine procurement at Public Services and Procurement Canada, said the 1.5 million slated to come to Canada next week will eventually be taken back by the U.S.

She said it will be subtracted by the U.S. from the 20-million bilateral agreement “for their own use.”

“We are still working with AstraZeneca and expect to have a delivery schedule for them in the coming week on the 20 million doses of our bilateral agreement,” she said.

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However, delivery schedules for the balance of the shots may remain murky as Health Canada reviews two American manufacturing facilities that weren’t part of the agency’s initial authorization.

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Health Canada’s chief medical adviser, Dr. Supriya Sharma, said Thursday that two facilities slated to manufacture AstraZeneca vaccines in the U.S. are currently under review “to make sure they meet the regulatory requirements” to produce the drug for Canadians.

In the interim, Health Canada will allow the vaccines from the yet-to-be-approved plants to come into Canada to be stored “so they will be in Canada for quick distribution” once they’re given the seal of approval to be administered.

“It’s just more making sure that those manufacturing facilities have the appropriate checks and balances in place to ensure the quality of the vaccine. So, good manufacturing process,” said Sharma.

“It’s not like a full vaccine authorization where we’re looking at clinical trials… It’s a much shorter process. We expect that to be completed in the coming days.”

Given these factors, a delivery schedule has not been established for the 20 million AstraZeneca doses procured by Canadian officials. However, a shipment of about one million AstraZeneca doses made by the Serum Institute in India is expected to arrive sometime in April. The remaining 500,000 doses from that agreement will funnel into the country in May, for a total of two million from that deal.

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As for the single-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine, a delivery schedule has yet to materialize.

Fortin said discussions are “ongoing” and that Canada’s contracted 10 million doses are “expected by September,” though he provided no further detail.

By contrast, Canada’s other approved shots — Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna — are coming into the country with increasing amounts and increasing clarity.

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Next week alone, Canada is expecting a shipment of 1.2 million doses from Pfizer. From there, the company plans to ship approximately one million doses every week from April to June.

Moderna is now shipping its shots every two weeks instead of three. Its next shipment is expected to arrive the first week of April and should include 855,000 doses. The following shipment, two weeks later, will jump to 1.2 million doses.

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This week, Canada’s vaccine rollout hit a double-digit milestone, as 11 per cent of the country’s adult population has now received at least one dose of a COVID-19 shot.

Canada’s deputy chief public health officer, Dr. Howard Njoo, acknowledged the milestone, but said 11 per cent isn’t enough to stop the spread of the virus, especially as more transmissible and possibly more deadly versions of the virus continue to pose a “significant threat.”

— with files from The Canadian Press

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