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

Gregory Ould, co-founder and executive director of Blanket BC, drops off warming blankets to Our Home on Eighth shelter in Port Alberni during a tour of Vancouver Island on Feb. 19, 2021. (SUSAN QUINN/ Alberni Valley News)
Blanket BC delivers warmth, hope to Vancouver Island’s homeless

Gregory Ould donated blankets, toques in five communities

Construction takes place on Bamfield Main in early February 2021. (PHOTO COURTESY CTV NEWS)
Closures planned for Bamfield Road

Construction by Mosaic unrelated to $30M upgrade

Island Health chief medical officer Dr. Richard Stanwick receives a first dose of Pfizer vaccine, Dec. 22, 2020. (B.C. government)
COVID-19: B.C. seniors aged 90+ can start to sign up for vaccination on March 8

Long-term care residents protected by shots already given

The Alberni Valley’s Emergency Operations Centre is located around the corner and below the Alberni-Clayoquot Regional District office. (AV NEWS FILE PHOTO)
Alberni-Clayoquot Regional District tests new mobile alert system

Residents can still sign up for free Voyent Alert! emergency messaging

Crews respond to a structure fire in the 6000 block of Renton Road in Cherry Creek on Saturday, Feb. 27. (FACEBOOK PHOTO)
Workshop destroyed in Cherry Creek fire

Crews stayed on scene overnight fighting ‘stubborn’ blaze

Older rental apartments are prime candidates for renovations, and could result in lost affordable housing stock. (Zoë Ducklow photo)
B.C.’s renoviction overhaul a good start, but won’t preserve affordable stock, lawyer says

And still no protection for people who can’t pay rent due to COVID-19

Activists from the Fairy Creek Blockades hold the injunction application notice which was submitted by logging company Teal Jones to the B.C. Supreme Court. The application, which asks to have blockaders removed from the sites that stop access to cut blocks, is set to be heard on March 4. (Photo contributed/Joshua Wright)
Activists hunker down to protect Fairy Creek near Port Renfrew from logging

Forest company Teal Cedar applies for injunction to remove seven-month-old blockades

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

(Photo by Marissa Baecker/Shoot the Breeze)
B.C. WHL teams to hit the ice with Kelowna, Kamloops hub cities

Kelowna, Kamloops centres chosen to host B.C. WHL teams for 24-game regular season

The victim of the homicide on Cowichan Lake Road early Monday morning was 17 years old, and was stabbed in the incident. (File photo)
Duncan homicide victim was 17 years old

RCMP report that teenager was stabbed

(File photo)
RCMP arrest man after report of gun-toting threat-maker near Parksville schools

43-year-old man taken into custody; students at nearby schools were asked to stay inside

The machines are akin to ATMs and allow drug users at risk of overdose to get hydromorphone pills dispensed to them after their palm has been scanned to identify its unique vein pattern. (CANADIAN PRESS)
Feds dole out $3.5M for ‘vending machines’ to dispense safer opioids in B.C.

The machines are located in four cities across Canada, including Vancouver and Victoria

Most Read