Skip to main content

The Globe and Mail

More than half of vaccine doses in storage

A picture of a syringue and two flasks of Pandemrix A (H1N1) vaccine from Glaxo Smith Kline.


Fewer than half of the available doses of H1N1 vaccine have been administered to Canadians, leaving millions of vials in warehouses or health-unit fridges across the country while people anxiously wait for their shots.

By the end of the week, 6.5 million doses of vaccines will be in circulation, with at least 1.8 million to come next week, according to federal officials.

However, numbers compiled from government sources show that provincial authorities have so far injected fewer than three million doses, or less than half of the available supply.

Story continues below advertisement

While blame for the lack of progress in getting needles into arms has fallen on everyone from the federal government to the provinces and the vaccine maker, public health officials said yesterday that the provinces weren't ready because they thought Ottawa's approval process would go more slowly.

Perry Kendall, British Columbia's public health officer, said delivery of the shots is lagging because of Ottawa's quicker than expected approval of the H1N1 vaccine. The infrastructure for administering the inoculations, which includes volunteers and vaccinators, was ready to begin rolling on Nov. 9, but Health Canada gave its approval the week of Oct. 26.

"We had to kind of flex around the date. We weren't at the capacity that we would have been had we not received the vaccine till Nov. 9 or even this week," Dr. Kendall said yesterday.

The province had planned on delivering 450,000 doses a week, and hopes to have gone through its current supply of more than 800,000 by the beginning of next week. The undistributed vaccine is in warehouses, in trucks on the way to clinics and doctors' offices, or sitting in the fridges of health units waiting to go.

Maureen Baikie, deputy chief medical officer of health in Nova Scotia, said clinics are running more smoothly as the campaign moves along. When the vaccine comes in to the province, it has be repackaged and distributed to local public health authorities, who then deliver it to clinics, which takes time. "You can't give it all at once," Dr. Baikie said.

Critics have said that the federal government and GlaxoSmithKline Inc. did not produce enough vaccine and underestimated the crowds at delivery sites. But federal officials said "there are no shortages," and that the provincial authorities are responsible for the lineups.

"There will be another 1.8 million doses available next week, which is a lot more than what the provinces are able to deliver at this point," Prime Minister Stephen Harper said in the House of Commons. "This is by far the largest-scale and quickest vaccination the provinces have ever attempted in this country. Rather than criticize them, I think we should encourage them in their work."

Story continues below advertisement

New Brunswick said today that it only has about 1,000 doses left, one day after Mr. Harper said the provinces had plenty.

GSK president Paul Lucas defended his firm's handling of the vaccine production, saying his plant in Quebec City is running 24/7. "We cannot afford to compromise on the quality of this product, and we will not," he told reporters in Ottawa.

The Ontario government has distributed all of its vaccine supply to the province's 36 local health units. But progress in inoculating the 3.4 million high-risk people at the front of the line has been slow and uneven.

Arlene King, Ontario's chief medical officer of health, told reporters yesterday she is aiming to use all its available doses by the end of this week. Only "several hundred thousand" people have been inoculated so far, Dr. King said, citing a shortage of vaccine as the reason for the slow progress.

But opposition members blamed the government, saying the province has a delivery problem, not a supply problem, and questioned whether 2.2 million people can be vaccinated by the end of the week.

"This rollout has been horrendous," said New Democratic Party Leader Andrea Horwath.

Story continues below advertisement

In the National Assembly, Quebec Health Minister Yves Bolduc acknowledged that authorities mistakenly vaccinated prison inmates ahead of target groups such as children.

"That was unacceptable," he said.

In Ottawa, the Liberals have launched a number of attacks in the hopes of pinning the blame on the Conservatives for the massive lineups across the country.

The government has proudly responded that Canada has more doses of vaccine per capita than any other country.

With reports from Karen Howlett in Toronto and Rhéal Séguin in Quebec



Of the 5.8 million doses of vaccine delivered so far across Canada, less than half had been administered. The federal government also bought 200,000 doses of unadjuvanted vaccine, produced by the Australian company CSL Ltd., for pregnant women. That vaccine is being distributed to provinces and territories this week.


Delivered (1000s)

Administered (1000s)







British Columbia












New Brunswick






Nova Scotia



Prince Edward Island



Northwest Territories












*Data not available. Source: Government officials

Report an error Licensing Options
About the Authors
Parliamentary reporter

Daniel Leblanc studied political science at the University of Ottawa and journalism at Carleton University. He became a full-time reporter in 1998, first at the Ottawa Citizen and then in the Ottawa bureau of The Globe and Mail. More

Education Reporter

Caroline Alphonso is an education reporter for The Globe and Mail. More

Comments are closed

We have closed comments on this story for legal reasons. For more information on our commenting policies and how our community-based moderation works, please read our Community Guidelines and our Terms and Conditions.

Combined Shape Created with Sketch.

Combined Shape Created with Sketch.

Thank you!

You are now subscribed to the newsletter at

You can unsubscribe from this newsletter or Globe promotions at any time by clicking the link at the bottom of the newsletter, or by emailing us at