Margaret Keenan, 90, the first patient in the United Kingdom to receive the Pfizer/BioNtech covid-19 vaccine, speaks with Healthcare assistant Lorraine Hill as she prepares to leave University Hospital Coventry & Warwickshire, the day after receiving the first of two doses of the vaccine, on December 9, 2020 in Coventry, United Kingdom. The UK is the first country in the world to start vaccinating people with the Pfizer/BioNTech jab.
Jonny Weeks/The Guardian - Pool/Getty Images

Canada's health regulator has approved Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine for use and Canadians could begin to receive Pfizer and BioNTech's COVID-19 vaccine as early as next week, Canadian authorities said on Wednesday. 

Pfizer's vaccine should be shipped by Friday, with doses arriving in Canada as early as Monday, said Major General Dany Fortin, who is leading the Canada's vaccine distribution effort, during a press conference. Some Canadians could receive a jab as soon as next Wednesday, he added.

"We're undertaking a mobilization effort of massive proportions," said Fortin. "Never in modern memory have we seen such an unprecedented level of collaboration and cooperation."

Now that Canada's health regulators have deemed Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine safe and effective, all eyes have turned to the next phase: distribution. Canada should receive up to 249,000 doses of Pfizer's vaccine by the end of December, health officials said, and the country is conducting a "dry run" to prepare for the challenges of shipping the vaccine. 

It takes about 36 hours to deliver Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccines from its manufacturing centers in Europe to Canada's health centers, Canadian officials said Wednesday. The vaccines start in Belgium and are flown to Canada by a shipping partner like UPS. Once in Canada, the vaccines must be distributed to 14 sites across the country and prepared for use, officials explained.

Pfizer's vaccine requires cold-chain storage, meaning it must be kept at very low temperatures, leaving little room for error. The shot can be kept at -94 degrees Fahrenheit for up to six months, and in a special dry-ice chest for up to 30 days, according to Pfizer. The requirements are especially challenging for Canada's remote regions, like the Northwest Territories. Officials discussed prioritizing sending Moderna's vaccine candidate, which has yet to be approved but can be kept at normal refrigerator temperatures for up to 30 days, to locations that are further afield. 

Ideally, no vaccines would be lost during the shipping process, said Dr. Supriya Sharma, Canada's chief medical advisor. But "in general, you plan for about 5% spoilage overall," she said.

Read more:  How the pharma giant Pfizer teamed up with a little-known biotech to develop an effective coronavirus vaccine in record time

Canada will prioritize giving the vaccine to vulnerable segments of the population: health care workers, those living and working in long-term-care facilities, and indigenous populations. The federal government is distributing vaccines based on the relative populations of each province, and from there, provinces will decide how to distribute vaccines to Canada's four priority groups.

Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine is about 95% effective at preventing COVID-19 and has minimal side effects, according to the company's late-stage trials. Pfizer has projected that it will manufacture up to 50 million doses by the end of the year, and up to 1.3 doses in 2021. 

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