OTTAWA - The first COVID-19 vaccines landed on Canadian soil on Sunday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said, and some Canadians are expected to roll up their sleeves for a shot as soon as Monday.
Canada and the United States are set this week to become the first Western nations after the UK to begin inoculations with the newly approved vaccine.
"The first batch of doses of Pfizer-BioNTech's COVID-19 vaccine have arrived in Canada," Trudeau said on Twitter on Sunday night above a picture of a cargo plane apparently used to transport the vaccine developed by Pfizer Inc and Germany's BioNTech SE.
The initial 30,000 doses will go to 14 sites across Canada. The most vulnerable people, including the elderly in long-term care facilities and healthcare workers, will be first in line for shots.
The vaccines left Belgium, where they were produced, on Friday, and traveled to Germany and the United States before being split up and sent to different parts of Canada.
"The intent here is to ensure that we continue to have regular drip feed of vaccines in the coming weeks," with 249,000 doses expected by the end of the year, Major-General Dany Fortin, who is in charge of vaccine distribution, told the Canadian Broadcasting Corp earlier in the day.
While it is "good news" that the vaccine has arrived, Trudeau said: "Our fight against COVID-19 is not over."
Forecasting a rapid acceleration of the spread of the novel coronavirus during the second wave, Canada's federal health authorities called on Friday for provinces to impose more health restrictions heading into the holidays.
The country has had 460,743 confirmed COVID-19 cases, with 5,891 new infections reported on Sunday. On Friday, health officials said Canada could see 12,000 new cases a day by January.
The highly contagious respiratory disease has claimed 13,431 lives in Canada, including 81 on Saturday.
'BRIDGE TO RECOVERY'
"While we have a long way to go, this marks the beginning of our bridge to recovery," Procurement Minister Anita Anand said on Twitter of the vaccine arrival.
Canada is expected to approve a second vaccine from Moderna Inc "reasonably soon" and the country will be ready to accept shipments of it by the end of the week, Fortin said earlier.
Supriya Sharma, senior medical adviser at Health Canada, said on the CBC the review of the Moderna vaccine was ongoing and that important data was expected later this week.
She also outlined guidance about potential allergic reactions to the Pfizer shot after reports of two such incidents on the first day of vaccinations in Britain.
On Saturday, Canada said anyone with vaccine allergies should not take the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine.
"If you have an allergy to a vaccine or this vaccine or any components of the vaccine, you should not get it," Sharma said. "But if you have other allergies, you can go ahead and get vaccinated."
Health Canada will be monitoring people who are inoculated for adverse reactions or side effects, she said.
Officials have said they expect to receive 6 million doses of Pfizer and Moderna vaccines before the end of March. Each vaccine requires two doses, given about three weeks apart.