‘Long road’ still ahead despite coronavirus vaccine on the horizon, Tam says

When it comes to the novel coronavirus pandemic, Canada’s top public health official said the country still has a “long road ahead” — even with a vaccine on the way.

An initial, limited supply should be available to Canadians early next year, Dr. Theresa Tam said, adding that the country will be “well-positioned” to provide vaccines to anyone who wants them.

“We don’t have a COVID-19 vaccine just yet and we must be prepared to address a range of logistical and operational challenges, but one thing is assured,” Tam said in a statement Wednesday.

“Any and all vaccines approved for use in Canada, will be required to meet the highest standards of quality, safety and effectiveness set by Health Canada’s rigorous regulatory review process.”

Read more: The global race for coronavirus vaccine doses: how does Canada compare?

Deputy chief public health officer Dr. Howard Njoo echoed Tam’s statements, saying that while initial supplies of vaccines would be limited to three million vaccinations, there would eventually be a COVID-19 vaccine for every Canadian.

Tam’s comments come as the country grapples with rising case numbers, many of which Tam said are resulting in growing numbers of Canadians suffering severe symptoms and needing hospitalization.

Over the last seven days, she said the country showed an average of 2,490 people being treated in-hospital for COVID-19, “489 of whom were being treated in intensive care units.” An average of 87 people also died per day last week, Tam said.

If Canada continues at the pace it’s going on now, Tam said the country could see upwards of 10,000 cases daily by January. She urged Canadians to follow public health guidelines and to avoid poorly ventilated enclosed spaces, crowds and close-contact situations.

“The impacts of ongoing community spread are increasingly being felt in high-risk populations and settings, including long term care homes and hospitals,” she said.

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COVID-19: Who will get the vaccine first?

“But the effects go beyond, impacting everyone as our healthcare workforce and health system bear a heavy strain and must cancel or postpone important elective medical procedures adding to pre-existing backlogs.”

Since the pandemic began in March, the Public Health Agency of Canada has detected 402,569 cases of the virus and 12,496 deaths. As of Saturday, Tam said 7.4 per cent of the population was testing positive for COVID-19, with much of country’s cases coming from Ontario and Quebec.

So far, Canada has signed deals with seven major pharmaceutical companies all vying to produce the world’s first COVID-19 vaccine, and has secured 414 million doses. That’s enough to deliver more than 10 doses per-person for Canada’s population of 37.9 million people.

Read more: Some coronavirus vaccines claim to be over 90% effective. What does that mean?

“We put these contracts in place in order to place Canadians in the best stead possible, of any country in the world, recognizing that we would need to negotiate additional terms such as precise delivery dates, once a vaccine was discovered, and regulatory approval was obtained,” Procurement Minister Anita Anand told the Canadian Press.

“And that is what’s happening now.”

Nicolas Chornet, senior vice-president of international manufacturing at vaccine developer Moderna, said in a previous interview with Global News that Canada’s level of production will be lower than in the United States, but that Canada moved “very, very fast in securing a vaccine.”

“[Canada is] one of the first countries or one of the top countries to receive our supply also,” Chornet said.

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