FILE – A Canadian flag sits on a members of Canadian forces that are leaving from CFB Trenton, in Trenton, Ont., on October 16, 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Lars Hagberg

FILE – A Canadian flag sits on a members of Canadian forces that are leaving from CFB Trenton, in Trenton, Ont., on October 16, 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Lars Hagberg

PM says military could help distribute COVID-19 vaccine, but Canada not there yet

The number of patients with severe illness due to COVID-19 is surging

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the military could play an integral part in rolling out COVID-19 vaccines across the country, though question marks remain around cost and distribution.

As case counts continue to climb at an alarming pace, the Canadian Armed Forces are already helping the Public Health Agency of Canada hammer out a support plan for vaccine rollout and set up a national operation centre to oversee broader delivery.

“Obviously, getting those vaccines from an airport tarmac or a port to Canadians right across the country is a significant logistical challenge,” Trudeau said Tuesday in Ottawa.

“That will involve multiple government agencies, possibly private contracts as well. It may well involve the Canadian Armed Forces.”

The remarks line up with those from Maj.-Gen. Trevor Cadieu, who heads the military’s strategic joint staff. He told the House of Commons national defence committee Monday the Forces “expect a potential request” for assistance with vaccine distribution.

Uncertainty remains around other logistical details.

“It’s a bit of a moving target,” Dr. Howard Njoo, deputy chief public health officer, said Tuesday of the number of doses bound for Canadian shores.

Shipments will arrive in batches, he said with the first landing “hopefully sometime early in the new year. That could lead to a majority of Canadians being vaccinated by the end of 2021, Njoo added, with the qualifier that “there will be adjustments.”

Storage and administration costs are other unknowns.

The Pfizer vaccine candidate, whose early results from the trial stage yielded a 90 per cent efficacy rate, needs “pretty sophisticated storage” at temperatures of -70 C, said Timothy Sly, professor emeritus at Ryerson University’s School of Occupational and Public Health.

“And that’s not available unless you go through a big industrial freezer,” he said.

“The logistics are going to be enormous. In one country we’re looking at millions (of doses); globally we’re looking at billions.”

The government is arranging contracts to expand refrigeration capacity and hold 33.5 million vaccine doses, Public Services and Procurement Minister Anita Anand said last week.

Anticipation around vaccines continues to grow as case counts tick upward and hospitalizations increase west of the Maritimes.

Total cases hit 306,467 across the country, according to numbers reported as of Tuesday afternoon, more than half of those cases having come in the past four months. Thedeath toll now stands at 11,086, according to figures from provincial health authorities.

Chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam highlighted “promising” early results from two vaccine trials by Pfizer and Moderna. But Trudeau stressed the country remains in an “incredibly serious” situation where Canadians will need to refocus their efforts until vaccines become widely available.

“We still have to get through the next month and the month after that before vaccines arrive,” he said.

READ MORE: B.C. records deadliest day of pandemic with 11 deaths, 717 new COVID cases

The number of patients with severe illness due to COVID-19 is surging, while those over 80 years old have the highest incidence rate, Tam said.

Public health authorities are warning of a steep rise in demand for hospital beds and intensive-care treatment in the days ahead based on recent record-breaking case numbers.

Asked about possible military-run field hospitals down the line, Tam said that “we do have those kinds of capacities, but it’s not limitless, and we should not get there.”

New cases exceeded 1,000 for the 12th consecutive day in Ontario, which reported 1,249 new cases Tuesday and 12 new deaths due to the illness.

Toronto alone saw 569 new cases — its highest ever daily tally — while Peel Region had 256.

Nunavut is the latest jurisdiction to announce strict new measures, as the territory prepares to enter a partial lockdown.

It logged 34 new cases Tuesday, more than doubling its tally overnight and less than two weeks after the first case was reported Nov. 6. The spike has prompted the government to close all schools, indoor dining and non-essential businesses for at least two weeks starting Wednesday.

Manitoba, which brought in similar measures last week, is upping its enforcement game, hiring a private security firm to help hand out fines for infractions such as gathering in groups of more than five people.

Dr. Brent Roussin, Manitoba’s chief public health officer, called out some retailers for advertising in-person Black Friday sales for Nov. 27, deeming it “irresponsible.”

“We can’t accept this. We’re in code red in Winnipeg right now. We have people dying every day. We have health-care workers telling us that our hospitals are reaching their limits,” Roussin said, stressing alternatives such as curbside pickup or online purchase and delivery.

In Saskatchewan, the government is requiring residents to wear masks in all indoor public spaces, effective Thursday. The province announced Tuesday it is also suspending all visits to long-term care homes unless there are compassionate grounds and limiting private indoor gatherings to no more than five people.

British Columbia broke its daily record for new cases, reporting 717 and 11 deaths Tuesday, following a weekend that saw four provinces reach unprecedented highs in their daily case counts.

Quebec reported 982 new cases of COVID-19 Tuesday and 24 more deaths attributed to the virus, prompting Premier François Legault to forecast that “red zone” restrictions will likely remain in most regions past the initial end date of Nov. 23. Health authorities said hospitalizations jumped by 47 compared with the prior day, to 638.

“Maybe next summer we could go back to a life that is just about normal,” Legault said in French.

Christopher Reynolds, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

Canadian Armed ForcesCoronavirusJustin Trudeau

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Rori Denness throws a javelin during BC Summer Games in 2016. (Black Press Media file photo)
Port Alberni ponders bidding for 2026 B.C. Summer Games

Port Alberni last hosted the BC Winter Games in 2004

Victoria artisan Tina Neurauter, right, used to shop at Pot Luck Ceramics with her daughter from Port Alberni. Now Neurauter is selling her handmade soaps and bath products at Bibi J’s, a new enterprise in the former Pot Luck Ceramics building on Gertrude Street in Port Alberni. (SUSAN QUINN/ Alberni Valley News)
Former Pot Luck Ceramics location reimagined as Bibi J’s

Owner Helma Swinkels revives social enterprise with new name, vision

The Rollin Art Centre’s Mistletoe Market begins on Dec. 1. (SUBMITTED PHOTO)
ARTS AROUND: Rollin Art Centre prepares for Mistletoe Market

Artisans and crafters are still needed for annual Christmas craft fair

‘Homelessness’ means many things to people with no permanent place to sleep. For some, the challenge to find safe shelter is greater than for others. (SUSAN QUINN/ Alberni Valley News)
Port Alberni mother battles to find housing for her son

Mary Elles fears her son will die on the street before he will find safe housing

A man wearing a face mask to help curb the spread of COVID-19 walks in downtown Vancouver, B.C., Sunday, Nov. 22, 2020. The use of masks is mandatory in indoor public and retail spaces in the province. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. records deadliest day of pandemic with 13 deaths, 738 new COVID-19 cases

Number of people in hospital is nearing 300, while total cases near 30,000

People wear face masks as they pose next to a Christmas display in Montreal, Sunday, November 22, 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues in Canada and around the world. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes
How to tell family their Christmas gathering is too risky and you’re not going

Dr. Hurst says it’s best to frame the conversation from a place of care, stressing safety precautions.

Keanu Reeves in “The Matrix.”
Free ‘Hollywood Suite’ movies in December include ‘Keanussance’ titles starring Keanu Reeves

Also featured is the Israeli-made ‘Valley of Tears,’ a 10-part war drama

FILE - This May 4, 2020, file photo provided by the University of Maryland School of Medicine, shows the first patient enrolled in Pfizer's COVID-19 coronavirus vaccine clinical trial at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore.  Pfizer announced Wednesday, Nov. 18, 2020, more results in its ongoing coronavirus vaccine study that suggest the shots are 95% effective a month after the first dose. (Courtesy of University of Maryland School of Medicine via AP, File)
VIDEO: B.C. planning for the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines in the first weeks of 2021

The question of who will get the vaccine first relies on Canada’s ethical framework

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good
Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

This undated photo issued by the University of Oxford shows of vial of coronavirus vaccine developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford University, in Oxford, England. (University of Oxford/John Cairns via AP)
Canada can make vaccines, just not the ones leading the COVID-19 race

Canada has spent more than $1 billion to pre-order seven different developing COVID-19 vaccines

British Columbia Premier John Horgan speaks during an announcement about a new regional cancer centre in Surrey, B.C., on Thursday, Aug. 6, 2020. Horgan is set to introduce his NDP government’s new cabinet Thursday. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Horgan’s NDP cabinet built to tackle pandemic, economic recovery, says former premier

Seven former NDP cabinet ministers didn’t seek re-election, creating vacancies in several high-profile portfolios

Most Read