People line up at a COVID-19 assessment centre during the COVID-19 pandemic in Scarborough, Ont., on Wednesday, December 2, 2020. Toronto and Peel region continue to be in lockdown. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette

People line up at a COVID-19 assessment centre during the COVID-19 pandemic in Scarborough, Ont., on Wednesday, December 2, 2020. Toronto and Peel region continue to be in lockdown. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette

COVID-19 vaccine approval could be days away as pressures mount on health-care system

Many health officials in regions across the country have reported increasing pressures on hospitals

Senior Health Canada officials said they could be just days away from approving a COVID-19 vaccine as many provinces reported increasing hospitalizations and Quebec cancelled plans to allow gatherings over the Christmas holidays on Thursday.

Chief medical adviser Dr. Supriya Sharma said final documents from the American drugmaker Pfizer are expected Friday. It will include which production lots of the vaccine will be shipped to Canada and when.

Sharma wouldn’t put an exact date on approval or delivery yet, but said once the “key information” is delivered from Pfizer, she will be able to tell Canadians the news they have been longing to hear.

Moderna’s vaccine is expected to receive approval soon after.

The supply will initially be limited to about three million people. Dr. Howard Njoo, Canada’s deputy chief public health officer, said Thursday they are targeting priority groups that will most benefit from an earlier vaccine while reducing the spread of the virus.

“In a country as geographically large and diverse as ours, we are facing some logistical complexities,” he said, including reaching remote communities and co-ordinating between various levels of government.

The Canadian Armed Forces received formal orders last week to start planning for the distribution of COVID-19 immunizations in the most ambitious and complex vaccine rollout in the country’s history. Maj.-Gen. Dany Fortin, who is leading the country’s distribution effort, said the speed, scope and scale of this plan makes it unique.

READ MORE: Defence chief says CAF will be ready after ordering COVID-19 vaccine prep last week

A planning directive for Operation Vector includes preparations on vaccine-storage facilities and notes the possibility of flying doses on short notice from Spain, Germany and the U.S.

Many health officials in regions across the country have reported increasing pressures on hospitals and front-line workers during the second wave of the pandemicas they prepare for upcoming distribution of the vaccine.

Premier Francois Legault announced Quebec will no longer go forward with a plan to permit multi-household gatherings of up to 10 people over four days during the holidays.

Hospitalizations declined slightly in that province to 737, but the number of people in the intensive care unit remained unchanged at 99 on Thursday.

Legault said it was not realistic to think the numbers will go down sufficiently by Christmas.

Ontario reported 666 people are hospitalized Thursday with COVID-19, with 195 in intensive care. There were 1,824 new cases and 14 more deaths due to the virus.

Manitoba reported 367 new infections and 12 additional deaths Thursday. Officials have emphasized that the health-care system is running near capacity with 357 people in hospital and 52 in intensive care due to COVID-19.

The seven-day rolling average of new cases nationally is 6,044.

READ MORE: 834 new cases, 12 new COVID-19 deaths as B.C. works on immunization strategy

— With files from Mia Rabson

Kelly Geraldine Malone, The Canadian Press


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