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Canada to begin receiving COVID-19 vaccines this month

Last Updated Dec 7, 2020 at 11:15 am PDT

In this undated photo released by Pfizer on Tuesday, Dec. 1, 2020, a vial of the COVID-19 candidate vaccine developed by BioNTech and Pfizer is shown displayed at the headquarters in Puurs, Belgium. The vaccine is awaiting approval to use against the coronavirus. (Pfizer via AP)

Canada has signed an agreement with Pfizer to receive up to 249,000 doses of its COVID-19 vaccine by the end of 2020

Canada had been expecting first doses of COVID-19 vaccine to arrive in early January

Approval of COVID-19 vaccine for use in Canada is expected to come any day now

OTTAWA (NEWS 1130) – Canada will be getting its first shipments of COVID-19 vaccines earlier than anticipated, the prime minister has confirmed, but the drug still needs approval before Canadians can start to roll up their sleeves.

Justin Trudeau says Canada has signed an agreement with Pfizer to receive up to 249,000 doses of its vaccine, developed with partner BioNTech, by the end of the year.

“It’s been a difficult year and we’re not out of the crisis yet. But now, vaccines are coming,” Trudeau said on Monday.

“We are facing the largest immunization in the history of our country,” he continued, adding the federal government has been working with provinces and territories to ensure everyone is prepared to begin distribution as soon as a vaccine candidate is approved.

The government had previously said it hoped to receive the first shipments of a COVID-19 vaccine in early January.

Vaccination timeline moved up

First shipments of the vaccine, which has yet to be approved by Health Canada for use in this country, could arrive as early as next week. The prime minister says if Health Canada approves Pfizer’s vaccine candidate this week, immunizations could start next week when the initial shipment arrives.

Pfizer submitted its final documents to the health agency on Friday, with officials saying they expect a positive decision.

“Shipments will continue to arrive into 2021, with millions of doses on the way. This will move us forward on our whole timeline of vaccine rollout, and is a positive development in getting Canadians protected as soon as possible,” Trudeau said.

Canada has purchased 20 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, with the option to buy an additional 56 million doses, if needed. The country is set to receive four million doses of this bulk by March.

Four million doses of the Pfizer vaccine is enough to inoculate two million people with two doses each.

Trudeau notes Pfizer, Health Canada, and provinces are currently working to finalize preparations of the first 14 vaccination sites across the country.

The prime minister explains the 14 identified distribution sites for the Pfizer vaccines are in urban centres — each province has one but the four largest provinces will have two.

He also says the initial round of vaccines will be divided among the provinces on a per-capita basis.

When it comes to who should receive the COVID-19 vaccines first, the government of Canada has recommended the elderly, health care workers, and adults in Indigenous communities should be at the beginning of the line.

However, the ultimate priority distribution will lie in the hands of provinces and territories.

Monday’s vaccine news comes as a dry run takes place across the country, with the military, federal and provincial health officials rehearsing the process of receiving, storing, and distributing the vaccine.

The Pfizer vaccine needs to be transported and stored at ultra-cold temperatures.

-With files from The Canadian Press