The delivery slowdown of COVID-19 vaccine doses from Pfizer-BioNTech is going to be far worse than the companies first warned Canada last week.
But the bad news is not just hitting Canada, as much of Europe now braces for longer delays than it expected, Mexico doesn't think it's going to get any doses at all for almost three weeks, and Saudi Arabia cancels new vaccine appointments because its shipments are being curtailed as well.
"We are not the only country not to receive any doses next week," said Maj.-Gen. Dany Fortin, the military commander now overseeing the vaccine logistics for the Public Health Agency of Canada.
But on Thursday Fortin had to deliver bad news on vaccine deliveries to Canada for the third time in less than a week.
Pfizer and BioNTech announced Jan. 15 that they were expanding the Pfizer plant in Puurs, Belgium, causing a temporary slowdown in production and reducing deliveries to all countries but the United States over the next month.
Initially Fortin said the companies were cutting deliveries to Canada in half over four weeks.
On Tuesday, he said this week's deliveries are down by about 20 per cent, next week Canada wouldn't get any at all, and that deliveries were to be about half of what was anticipated for the two weeks after that.
But now Fortin says the deliveries in the first week of February will be 79,000 doses, which is only one-fifth of what had previously been promised. All told, Canada is getting only one-third of its previously expected doses between this week and Feb. 7, with no indication yet of how many doses will come the week after that.
Fortin said Pfizer has promised to deliver four million doses to Canada by the end of March. With the current known delivery schedule, the company will have to ship more than 3.1 million doses over 7 1/2 weeks to meet that commitment.
Deliveries from Moderna, the other company that has a COVID-19 vaccine approved for use in Canada, are not affected. Canada has received about 176,000 doses from Moderna to date, with deliveries arriving every three weeks.
Moderna has promised two million doses by the end of March.
Both vaccines require first doses and then boosters several weeks later for full effectiveness. Together Pfizer and Moderna intend to ship 20 million doses to Canada in the spring, and 46 million between July and September. With no other vaccines approved, that means Canada will get enough doses to vaccinate the entire population with two doses by the end of September.
Provinces have already been cancelling new appointments or delaying second doses, as they grapple with getting smaller supplies than expected.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has been criticized for not doing more to fix the situation, including calling Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla directly. Trudeau's office wouldn't confirm if he had made such a call, but a Pfizer Canada spokeswoman said all the company's dealings with Canada's cabinet thus far have been through Procurement Minister Anita Anand.
European leaders last week were warned they'd be affected for four weeks, too, but after a call to Bourla from European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, that seemed to be cut to just one week.
But many European countries are now saying they expect to receive fewer shipments next week as well. Italy is threatening legal action against Pfizer for the delays.
Mexico said this week its doses this week were cut in half and that it doesn't expect to get any more from Pfizer until Feb. 15. Bahrain and Saudi Arabia also reported delays in their shipments.