Canada has exercised an option with pharmaceutical giant Pfizer-BioNTech to secure an additional 20 million doses of its COVID-19 vaccine, with the first deliveries of some of these doses expected in April at the earliest.

“We are looking at seeing those doses arrive in April or May I believe,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced Tuesday during his Rideau Cottage address. “We’re going to continue working to see if we can get a few more doses, because all Canadians want this to move forward as quickly as possible.” 

The federal government had already secured 20 million Pfizer doses, and that amount has now doubled to 40 million, by exercising an option in the contract that allowed Canada to access up to 76 million additional doses. 

In a separate press conference, Procurement Minister Anita Anand said that Canadians will start to see a “dramatic acceleration” in the mass vaccination campaign starting this spring, with much larger batches of doses expected to begin arriving in the second quarter of 2021.

This news comes on the heels of Anand confirming she chose not to exercise an option to buy up to 16 million additional doses of the Moderna vaccine because they would not have arrived until late in 2021.

Anand said that Canada still has the ability to lock in more doses from the remaining 36 million optioned in the Pfizer contract.

She said the reason Canada went with Pfizer rather than exercising the option with Moderna—which has now expired but is a logistically easier vaccine to administer—was because Pfizer could guarantee their doses would arrive between April and September.

Last week, Maj. Gen. Dany Fortin told reporters that Pfizer had updated its guidelines to administer doses in a thawed state and in smaller tray sizes, meaning its vaccines can now be transported and administered to more sites across Canada without the same degree of extreme cold storage logistical complications as was seen in the first weeks of Canada's vaccine rollout. 

“From our agreements with Moderna and Pfizer alone, we will now have 80 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines arriving this year,” Trudeau said Tuesday.

Though, Anand said under the current delivery schedule just 20 million of these doses will be delivered between April and June, which means Canada could be waiting to vaccinate the majority of people in the last stretch of Canada’s planned vaccination campaign.

A total of six million doses are currently planned to be distributed to three million prioritized Canadians by the end of March.

The federal government continues to face calls from the provinces and some health experts for a faster rollout and larger delivery of doses over the next few months, saying health facilities are ready to start vaccinating a larger number of Canadians prior to the spring.   

On Monday, the federal government published a delivery schedule outlining the amount of Pfizer and Moderna vaccines being distributed to provinces each week between now and the end of February so that each region can plan accordingly and schedule an appropriate number of vaccination appointments for prioritized groups like front-line health workers and seniors in long-term care comes. 

Both vaccines require two shots per person and should the full 80 million doses arrive as planned they would be enough to immunize the entire population. Health Canada safety and efficacy reviews are underway for two additional vaccine candidates: AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson, which if given the regulatory green light would further bolster Canada’s available supply.

Canada has deals to secure up to 20 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine candidate, and up to 38 million doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine candidate.

The federal government is planning to begin vaccinating the general population in April and between then and June the aim is to vaccinate between 15 and 19 million Canadians, which equates to between 40 and 50 per cent of the population. Then between June and September, the plan is to vaccinate nearly 20 million more people, seeing Canada hitting and surpassing the herd immunity threshold.

Trudeau said Tuesday that Canada remains on track to have every Canadian who wants to be immunized, vaccinated by September.

“If we can do it even quicker than that, that would be great news. The quicker everyone gets vaccinated, the quicker we're going to be able to get back to a semblance of normality,” he said.