Pfizer-BioNTech has announced that doses of their Covid=19 Vaccine, destined for Canada, will be delayed because they must suspend production in order to allow an expansion of their plant in Puurs, Belgium. The expansion plans are being carried out in order to expand their long-term capacity for production, but that is little comfort to the confused public health officials, government ministers, and vulnerable people waiting to get their second shot, or even their first.
Each province is handling the expected reduction in the number of vaccine doses that had been planned in different ways. Ontario has slowed down their plans for the second dose, assuring that everyone that has received a first dose will indeed get their second dose. Other provinces, such as Quebec, have decided to withhold the administration of second doses, and continue giving the first doses with the vaccines that remain. Public Health units that have decided to postpone the second dose have cited various research studies that have analyzed data concerning the efficacy of the second dose at various intervals to the first. Most public health units maintain that there is enough sound evidence to say that the vaccine is just as effective when there is increased time between the two doses.
The delay of the vaccine will be most obvious during the week of January 25, when Pfizer will reduce the shipments to Canada by 75 percent. Pfizer’s plan is to honour all planned shipments as soon as they are able, including both the delayed doses and the future doses being delivered at a similar time. Pfizer assures their customers that they have distributed the shortfall equitably amongst countries expecting their vaccines.
Meanwhile, projected models of infection rates across Canada are sobering. Governments are hoping that by announcing the grim projections, that residents will pay attention to the importance of staying at home. Epidemiologists are very concerned about the new highly-contagious variant that was first detected in the UK, but is now widespread throughout many countries, including Canada. Although the current vaccines approved for distribution in Canada currently are effective against this new more virulent strain, that may not hold true for future mutations of the virus expected. Viruses reproduce at an extremely fast rate. Mutations that are more virulent can overtake the original. Indeed, it is in a virus’ very makeup to evolve, to survive and thrive. It is possible that the vaccine could exert pressure on the existing strains of the Covid-19 virus, both original and more virulent, in such a way that it mutates in reaction to the vaccine, and newer strains of the virus become immune to the current vaccine.