Maj.-Gen. Dany Fortin, the Canadian military officer overseeing the distribution of the vaccine to provincial health care systems, said that Pfizer would start shipping it from a plant in Belgium on Friday. That could make it possible, he said, for Canadians to begin receiving shots as early as next Wednesday.
The vaccine must be kept at extremely cold temperatures until within a few days of use, making transportation and storage a challenge. Once it reaches Canada, it cannot be used right away because it must be thawed and prepared for injection.
Canada has 14 depots across the country with special freezers for the vaccine. General Fortin said it would initially be distributed to all 10 provinces, which would then be responsible for injecting people. Officials said the far northern territories, which are not equipped to handle the logistical challenges that go with the Pfizer-BioNTech shot, would have to wait for another vaccine.
It will be up to Canada’s provincial governments to decide who will be vaccinated first. Dr. Howard Njoo, the country’s deputy chief public health officer, said a federal panel has recommended that the first injections go to people over the age of 80, residents and workers of long-term care homes, health workers and Indigenous communities.
François Legault, the premier of Quebec, said his province would first target long-term care homes, which have been the main source of Covid-related deaths in the province.
Dr. Sharma said that the vaccine had been subjected to the same degree of scrutiny as any previous drug or vaccine. But to accelerate the process, Health Canada reviewed data from clinical trials and manufacturing tests as the data was being generated, allowing for a “rolling review.” In the past, the department only opened reviews when all trials and tests were complete.
She said that the final data needed for approval arrived late Tuesday evening and was reviewed overnight, which allowed the approval to go forward.