OTTAWA — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he’s optimistic Canada’s COVID-19 immunization timeline could be accelerated after President Joe Biden’s announcement that the U.S. will have enough vaccines for all adults by the end of May.
Trudeau said Canada reached a milestone this week with two million COVID-19 vaccines administered across the country. He repeated a promise that every Canadian adult who wants a vaccine will be able to receive a shot by the end of September.
If all the vaccines Canada contracted are able to be manufactured and shipped without significant delays, Trudeau said, the government is “very optimistic” the September goalpost could move forward.
Watch: Trudeau says vaccinating all Canadians before September possible. Story continues below video.
Asked if he is concerned about witnessing the U.S. potentially reopen its economy this summer while many Canadians still wait for vaccines, Trudeau noted how hard Canada’s neighbour has been hit by the pandemic.
“Obviously, the pandemic has had a very different course in the United States with far greater death tolls and case counts and that has had its own impact on the American economy that Canadians haven’t quite felt the same way,” the prime minister said.
In Canada, more than 22,000 deaths have been reported as linked to COVID-19. Trudeau cautioned against comparing Canada’s work against the U.S., adding immunization campaigns are following scientific recommendations from experts and are moving as quickly as possible.
He said in his conversations with Biden, it was very mutually understood that “you don’t get through this pandemic anywhere, not fully, until you get through it everywhere.”
The prime minister left the door open to the possibility a future deal with the U.S. could bring potential surplus vaccines north.
“Like most countries around the world, they are prioritizing their own populations but they are, by also stepping up on the COVAX facility internationally, by looking at how they can be helpful around the world, very open to helping out other countries and those conversations will continue,” he said.
On Tuesday, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki told reporters that President Biden’s focus remains foremost on getting Americans vaccinated first.
“The president did not make any commitments nor did he give a timeline,” Psaki said in response to a question about sharing vaccine doses with long-time allies.
The U.S. currently has “more than enough doses” to vaccinate the American people, she said.
Canada previously, and currently, does not have the manufacturing capacity to produce domestic COVID-19 vaccines. The federal government signed vaccine procurement deals, exceeding $1 billion in value, to secure up to 429 million doses from seven vaccine candidates.
If all the vaccines candidates are approved, and all contractual deliveries are fulfilled, there will be more than 10 doses available for every Canadian. So far, Health Canada has approved three vaccines for use.
Trudeau said Wednesday that the government had to plan for potential delays in its procurement strategy for vaccines. He pointed to the delivery disruption from Pfizer’s plant upgrades in Belgium and supply-chain challenges with Moderna as examples of unforeseen challenges.
“These are new processes for new vaccines that are being manufactured in the millions and even in billions in order to cover all of everyone on Earth,” he said, explaining why the federal government signed more deals to ensure supply.
AstraZeneca’s vaccine was the latest candidate approved by Health Canada last week. The federal government signed an agreement with AstraZeneca for 20 million doses of its vaccine.
The vaccine, like Moderna’s, can be stored at normal refrigeration temperatures, between two and eight degrees Celsius, making it easier to transport than the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, which requires sub-zero temperatures below -60C.
According to the Canada Border Services Agency, the first 500,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine arrived by a FedEx flight Wednesday evening.