After some provinces slowed down their vaccine administration campaigns over the holidays and with 1.2 million more doses expected to arrive this month, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he shares the frustrations of Canadians over doses sitting in freezers waiting to be given out.

On Tuesday, during his first national address of the year on the state of the COVID-19 crisis, he spoke to the concerns from health experts about the rate of vaccines being put into the arms of the first priority tranche of Canadians in comparison to other countries. 

He said he plans on taking up the matter with premiers on Thursday, during their weekly cross-Canada COVID-19 call.

“I think all Canadians, including me, are frustrated to see vaccines in freezers and not in people's arms,” Trudeau said, adding that he plans to ask the provinces if they need more federal aid in this mass vaccination campaign.

“Now is the time, with the new year upon us, to really accelerate and that's certainly what I'll be talking with the premiers about… how the federal government can support and help in getting these vaccines even more quickly out to Canadians,” said Trudeau.

Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc said Tuesday that he’ll be asking premiers during Thursday’s call whether the federal government can do more to ensure there is no “lag time” once vaccines get delivered to the provincial and territorial sites.

“The vaccination of their populations is properly a provincial responsibility, and our job is to do everything we can to support them in discharging that responsibility as expeditiously and safely, obviously, as they can,” LeBlanc said. 

In an interview on CTV’s Power Play, Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil disputed the federal government’s assertion that numerous doses are sitting in freezers waiting to be administered, saying that any slow start should be viewed as the trial run needed to ensure that when much larger batches of vaccines start arriving across Canada, the kinks in the system have been worked out.

“There is no vaccine sitting in a freezer in our province that is not committed to a Nova Scotian,” McNeil said. “We're making sure that we have the delivery model to actually ensure that we can deliver a vaccine when it arrives in this province.” 

During a briefing following Trudeau’s address, Maj.-Gen. Dany Fortin — who is leading the federal rollout from within the Public Health Agency of Canada — said that cross-Canada delivery of December’s 424,500 doses has been completed. This includes doses of COVID-19 vaccines from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna, which are the two currently approved for use by Health Canada.

Fortin said that Canada is on track to receive more than 1.2 million doses of these vaccines by the end of the month.

“Canada has proven that we're ready for a sustained tempo of vaccine deliveries expected throughout the month of January. This week’s shipment of 124,800 Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines is on the way. We expect a further 208,000 doses per week for the rest of this month. We are also expecting 171,000 doses of Moderna during the week of Jan. 11,” he said.

“I want to reaffirm to all Canadians, that what quantities seem limited, we're scaling up. This is a deliberate operation. We are closely coordinating with provincial and territorial partners, stakeholders and different other partners, every day to ensure that the delivery process of COVID-19 vaccines continues to operate smoothly.”

Since the first vaccine was administered on Dec. 14, nearly 140,000 people have received Pfizer or Moderna shots. That’s 0.368 per cent of the Canadian population, according to the CTV News coronavirus vaccine tracker. 

Already, private companies like Shoppers Drug Mart have raised their hands offering to help administer doses when the time comes and the supply is there.

“We have had productive conversations. Governments have been mostly focused on phase one, and we do see ourselves playing a role and phase two and phase three,” said Shoppers Drug Mart President Jeff Leger on CTV’s Power Play, noting that pharmacies have been giving vaccines for years and most locations are open long hours and able to do the digital contacting of Canadians to come back for their second doses. 

“We've already been working on the protocols, we've been doing vaccines for many, many years. So our pharmacists are well trained, they're ready,” he said. 

Both Trudeau and Fortin said they are not concerned about vaccine manufacturers slowing down deliveries to Canada if they see more doses than there should be sitting in freezers waiting to be administered.

“We have seen some challenges that I think we're all impatient about in terms of getting those vaccines into arms, but we are confident and very hopeful that over the coming weeks, the challenges will be overcome… There are many other ways of doing it, other than just through hospital centers and these are things that we're working with and exploring with the provinces on,” said the prime minister.

Still, Trudeau is confident that, by September, Canada will have enough doses to vaccinate every Canadian who wants to be.

“This pandemic will end. We will get through this. Better days are on the horizon, but to get there, we need to keep holding on,” said the prime minister, referencing the increasingly serious COVID-19 situation in this country, with record setting case counts and ICUs over capacity in some provinces.

“On New Year’s Eve there were over 8,400 new COVID-19 cases reported in Canada… These aren’t just numbers. Hundreds of families are grieving someone they lost over the holidays, thousands more are worried about a loved one in hospital. Countless paramedics, nurses and doctors are struggling to keep up with new patient after new patient. That is what’s at stake here. And that is why your choices matter,” Trudeau said.