First shipments of COVID-19 vaccine arrive in Canada

The first shipments of the COVID-19 vaccine have arrived in Canada.


The first shipments of the COVID-19 vaccine have arrived in Canada.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made the announcement just before 8 p.m. Sunday night on Twitter, noting that while it’s “good news”, the fight against COVID-19 is not over and Canadians must keep up their vigilance.

The Public Health Agency of Canada said some of the 30,000 initial doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine will begin to be transported to 14 distribution sites across the country Sunday night, with more crossing the border via plane and truck on Monday.

There are distribution sites in all 10 provinces, but none in the territories because health officials say the Pfizer shot’s -70 C storage temperature make it difficult to stock there.

News of the vaccine’s arrival comes as Canada confirmed 5,891 new cases of the virus on Sunday, pushing the total nationwide past 460,000. Another 81 people have died from the virus, raising the overall death toll to 13,431.

Quebec is expected to be the first province to administer the vaccine, saying it’s prepared to start inoculating residents of two long-term care homes as early as Monday.

Beverly Spanier, a 75-year-old resident of Montreal’s Maimonides Geriatric Centre, calls a miracle.

“We’re celebrating Hanukkah, which is a time of miracles. It’s absolutely a miracle that we’re about to receive this vaccine so quickly,” Spanier, who is paralyzed from the waist down, said in an interview Sunday.

Francine Dupuis, associate CEO of the Montreal regional health agency, said she expects to receive two boxes each containing 975 doses of the vaccine.

She said teams of health-care workers have been ready to administer the vaccines since Friday, but that they don’t know when the shipments will arrive exactly.

“It’s a well-kept secret,” Dupuis said in an interview Sunday morning. “No one knows right now.”

About 90 to 95 percent of eligible Maimonides residents have accepted to take the vaccine, she said. That means between 300 and 350 residents will be inoculated.

Health-care workers at Maimonides will be vaccinated next, and then the remaining doses will go to health-care workers at other long-term care homes, Dupuis said.

She said none of the initial doses would be set aside, as more shipments are expected to arrive to ensure people get their required second shot 21 days later.

“The important thing to remember is that we can’t lose doses,” Dupuis said. “We need to have a scenario where there are enough people who will come so that all the doses are used.”

Spanier said while she is extremely grateful to be receiving the vaccine, she is well aware of the toll COVID-19 has taken on those around her.

“It’s not a time for happy partying because we’re getting this vaccine,” she said on Sunday.

“It’s a time to remember: remember what this means, remember the losses that we had, remember that we want to protect every other person we can protect from getting this disease.”

The other long-term care centre to receive doses is Saint-Antoine in Quebec City, where public health officials said resident Gisele Levesque would be the first to be vaccinated.

Her nieces, in a press release, said Levesque, who moved into the facility just as the pandemic broke out in March, was calm and direct about being No. 1 on the list, saying simply, ‘I was chosen, of course.’”

Other provinces say they’ll vaccinate long-term care residents and front-line health-care workers later in the week.

While it’s unclear what percentage of people will opt to be vaccinated, demand appears to be very high in at least one province.

In Manitoba, which reported 273 new COVID-19 cases and seven additional deaths linked to the virus on Sunday, the government said it received over 100,000 calls from people trying to book appointments for the vaccine.

Only 900 spots are available to receive the first doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, however, with strict criteria on who is eligible. Half the spots were already filled by Sunday morning, the province said.

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