Provinces discuss rollout plans, preach patience ahead of COVID-19 vaccine arrival

Provinces discussed their respective COVID-19 vaccine rollout plans and urged patience following Monday’s announcement that Canada is expecting to receive up to 249,000 doses of a vaccine by the end of December.

Health Canada is expected to approve the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine this week, and the first shipments are on track to arrive next week. Immunization for this vaccine requires two doses administered weeks apart, so the initial batch would be enough for nearly 125,000 Canadians.

Pfizer advises that its vaccine be stored in a freezer at –80C to –60C or in a thermal container at temperatures of –90C to –60C. The vaccine is to be delivered to 14 sites across Canada, with doses divided up on a per-capita basis among the provinces.

Here’s a look at how provinces and territories are planning for the arrival of the first round of vaccines.

Ontario

Retired Gen. Rick Hillier, who is leading Ontario’s vaccine task force, said the province should be able to vaccinate 1.2 million people during the first three months of 2021 — but noted that there is still uncertainty around the initial rollout and there is no firm timeline yet.

WATCH | Rick Hillier discusses Ontario’s vaccine rollout plan:

Retired General Rick Hillier says Ontario hopes to provide an “efficient” and “equitable” COVID-19 vaccination program, to provide every eligible person across the province with the opportunity to voluntarily get vaccinated. Watch the video for more details about the province’s three-phased plan of rolling out the vaccine. 3:08

“Every single day we learn something more about the characteristics and the properties of the vaccine and one of things is that the stability data when it’s moved is uncertain,” Hillier said, noting that the 85,000 doses will be available in the province this month. “As of right now, we may be restricted somewhat in moving it after we receive it.”

Premier Doug Ford said Monday that vulnerable seniors, their caregivers and health-care workers will be among the first to receive the vaccine. Adults in Indigenous communities, residents of retirement homes and recipients of chronic home health care will also be priority groups, but it may be April before the shots are widely available to others.

Hillier said the vaccine will be more broadly available to the public starting in April during the second phase of the rollout, and it will take between six to nine months to distribute across the province.  “People are going to have to be patient that their turn will come,” he said.

Quebec

Quebec Health Minister Christian Dubé said the province should receive four boxes of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine by next Monday, which will allow for 2,000 people at two unspecified long-term care homes to be vaccinated.

Between 22,000 and 28,000 Quebecers will be immunized against COVID-19 by Jan. 4, as the province receives more doses of the vaccine, Dubé said.

WATCH | Christian Dubé discusses Quebec’s rollout plan

Residents of long-term care homes and health-care workers will be the first to receive the COVID-19 vaccine in Quebec. 1:53

“Yes, today’s news is good news, but let’s not let it distract us. We have to stay focused,” he said.

Residents of long-term care homes and health-care workers will be the first to be vaccinated, he said, followed by people living in private seniors’ residences and those in isolated communities, including Indigenous communities. Those four groups represent about 547,000 people living in Quebec.

Newfoundland and Labrador

Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Andrew Furey said the province will get 1,950 doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine next week, with more to come later.

“Thank God,” he said. “Hope is on the horizon … [but] we are not there yet,” he said.

Furey said the vaccination task force announced on Dec. 4 was working on logistics of who would get inoculated first. While there isn’t a defined list yet for the province, the premier pointed to the guidelines from the National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) in regards to vaccination priority.

Furey also said last week that vaccination will be “highly suggested” but not mandatory.

New Brunswick

A spokesperson for New Brunswick’s Department of Justice and Public Safety said up to 1,950 doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine should arrive “around Dec. 14 as part of the first of two shipments that may occur this month.”

Those doses would be enough to vaccinate 975 people.

The province is working to “identify the priority groups that will receive the vaccine in the first phase of vaccinations based on recommendations from the federal government,” spokesperson Shawn Berry said in an email.

“Any doses that do arrive ahead of January will be provided to members of those priority groups based on New Brunswick’s operational plan.”

Nova Scotia

Nova Scotia’s Department of Health said in a statement to CBC News that the province is expected to receive 1,950 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine next week.

Before that, the province will participate in a dry-run exercise with the manufacturer, the federal government, Dalhousie University and health system partners to prepare for the vaccine’s arrival. The exercise will test shipping, delivery, tracking and storage, but will not include the vaccine.

Prince Edward Island

Since provincial allocation will be done on a per-capita basis, P.E.I. is expected to receive just over 1,000 doses of the first allotment of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine.

“We’re a small jurisdiction, so we will be able to get around and service Islanders probably more quickly than any other jurisdiction will,” P.E.I. Premier Dennis King said on Nov. 27.

Manitoba

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 expects they would be “very limited in quantity.”

“The sooner we are able to receive the vaccine, the better,” he 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. He added that planning for the rollout has made significant progress and he expects details to be announced in the near future.

Last week, Premier Brian Pallister said Manitoba had acquired one of the freezers needed to store the Pfizer/BioNTech; the low storage temperature poses logistical challenges for distributing the vaccine to remote areas.

WATCH | Experts discuss the COVID-19 vaccine rollout:

As Canada prepares to distribute millions of doses of COVID-19 vaccines, Chair of the National Advisory Committee on Immunization Dr. Caroline Quach-Thanh and David Levine, who managed the H1N1 vaccine rollout for Montreal, say this vaccination campaign won’t be without challenges. 3:05

Saskatchewan

Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe said the province has an ultra-low-temperature freezer that’s required to store the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine and that Saskatchewan’s vaccine distribution plan will be revealed Tuesday.

Moe says vaccinations will happen in a staggered approach as the province receives more doses throughout 2021. He said the plan is to start with inoculating health-care workers and vulnerable residents, like seniors living in long-term care homes.

Alberta

Alberta is expected to receive 3,900 doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine next week, which would be enough to inoculate 1,950 people.

The provincial government has said it will prioritize frontline health-care workers and vulnerable demographics, such as seniors in long-term care.

WATCH | BioNTech says its vaccine could ship within 24 hours of Health Canada approval:

Sean Marett, chief business and chief commercial officer for BioNTech, says once Canada approves the Pfizer rollout, the vaccine could ship within 24 hours. 9:41

British Columbia

Dr. Bonnie Henry, British Columbia’s public health officer, said the province expects to receive its first delivery of the vaccine next week.

“It will be a start of our program, a very important start, but just a small amount to start with to ensure that we get our logistics going,” Henry said. “But our ability to start protecting elders and seniors, particularly in our care homes and the health-care workers who care for them, will be an important step forward in our COVID-19 struggle.”

Henry said she and other provincial officials will deliver a full briefing on B.C.’s vaccine rollout plan later in the week.

Yukon, N.W.T. and Nunavut

Trudeau said the “more significant logistical challenges” associated with distributing the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine means it won’t be going to northern communities right away. He said territorial residents would be among those to be inoculated with the first three million doses, which are expected in the beginning of 2021 and would also include the Moderna vaccine.

“We have worked very closely with the premiers in the northern territories, as well as Indigenous leaders across the country. We know that they are a priority population,” Trudeau said. He said the first three million doses would be a mix of Pfizer and Moderna vaccines.

Dr. Michael Patterson, Nunavut’s chief public health officer, said last week that the territory is more likely to get the Moderna vaccine because the Pfizer vaccine’s strict storage and shipping requirements aren’t appropriate for remote communities.

Neither the Northwest Territories health department, nor Yukon’s office of the chief medical officer of health, immediately responded to a request for comment.

WATCH | Nunavut’s top doctor calls Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine ‘impractical’ for remote areas:

Given the extreme cold storage requirements for shipping the Pfizer vaccine, Nunavut’s Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Michael Patterson says it’s impractical for remote communities.   0:19

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