Premier Doug Ford’s office says that they have been told to be prepared for delays to two upcoming shipments of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, creating a potential snag in getting shots into arms just as Ontario makes the vaccine available to younger residents.

The first of the shipments was tentatively scheduled to arrive this week and was to include an estimated 389,000 doses, provincial officials said on background, while the second shipment was set for the week of May 3 and was to include an estimated 194,500 doses.

In a statement provided to CTV News Toronto on Monday afternoon, a spokesperson for Ford said that Ontario has now been informed that it should be “prepared for both shipments to be delayed until the end of May.”

It is unclear what effect that will have on the availability of appointments at the more than 1,400 pharmacies administering AstraZeneca though any interruption in supply right now will be problematic, given the decision to move up the age eligibility for the AstraZeneca vaccine from 55 to 40 as of tomorrow morning.

“As we look to expand our rollout of AstraZeneca to younger age groups and into more pharmacies, any delays to vaccine shipments would be devastating for Ontario right now as we battle the third wave of this pandemic,” a statement from Ford’s office reads. “While we seek to confirm this information, the Premier is redoubling his efforts to secure more vaccines by directly reaching out to our international allies for any available supply.”

Under fire for a slow response to the third wave of the pandemic and for some restrictions that were quickly reversed, Ford’s office has been taking aim at federal officials for not providing more vaccines sooner.

Neither delivery figure had been published by the federal government as part of its official vaccine delivery schedule to the provinces and federal officials said Monday that the provinces were informed on April 7 that a delivery schedule had not yet been finalized.

In a statement, federal procurement Minister Anita Anand said further AstraZeneca doses are still expected to arrive this quarter.

“As stated on Friday, Canada still expects a further 4.1 million doses of AstraZeneca and AstraZeneca CoviShield this quarter in addition to the 2.3 million doses of this vaccine that have already been received,” she said. “We will continue to accelerate the delivery of doses to ensure that Canadians have access to as many vaccines as possible, as early as possible.”

Ontario has been impacted by a number of delayed vaccine shipments in recent weeks, including several that have stemmed from a quality assurance backlog at Moderna’s production facilities.

In the statement released on Monday, Ford’s office said that the premier has already spoken with Canada’s ambassador to Denmark and the Consulate General of the United States in an effort to obtain more vaccine doses and is also scheduled to speak with EU ambassador to Canada and High Commissioner of India later today.

However, it remains unclear whether Ford’s effort to skip over normal diplomatic channels and reach out to foreign governments himself will be successful.

“The Premier will continue exhausting every option available to secure more vaccines sooner so that we can put this pandemic behind us once and for all,” the statement from his office reads.

Pharmacist association calls for vaccine to be made available to all adults

News of the potential shipment delays involving the AstraZeneca vaccine come as the head of the Ontario Pharmacists Association calls on the Ford government to make the vaccine available to even more Ontarians.

The vaccine was only available to adults aged 55 and older following a recommendation from the National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) but Health Minister Christine Elliott announced over the weekend that individuals 40 plus will be able to book appointments to receive their shots at more than 1,400 participating pharmacies and at primary care offices in select public health units as of Tuesday.

The decision came amid record-breaking COVID-19 case counts and some reports suggesting that pharmacies were encountering hesitancy due to extremely rare instances of blood clots in those who have received the vaccine.

The risk is believed to be about one in a million.

The province has said that it received 538,400 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine between March 29 and April 4 as part of a U.S. loan deal with Canada. A spokesperson for the government, however, told last Thursday that 500,000 of those doses have been delivered to pharmacies and doctors’ offices but had yet to be administered.

“We need to understand that Health Canada has approved this vaccine for 18 plus. NACI, which is a recommendation, was taking an abundance of caution approach. But the provinces are able to follow the approved monograph from the manufacturer as well as the Health Canada approval,” Ontario Pharmacists Association CEO Justin Bates told CP24 earlier on Monday. “That is what we are suggesting. Go 18 plus. We know there are supply challenges - and I think that is why 40 was chosen, it is because there will be so much demand and we are still seeing bottle necks with supply - but we know it is safe for 18 plus and that is where we should be.”

Bates said that the Ontario government’s decision to lower the age eligibility for the AstraZeneca vaccine was “welcome news and a step in the right direction” but he said that more needs to be done.

He said that a good starting point would be changing the rules so that “essential workers in any age bracket” can go to a pharmacy or doctor’s office and receive the vaccine. He said that his association is also working on a “daily basis” with other levels of government to see whether there is a way for pharmacies to participate in some of the mobile and pop up clinics taking place in hot spot neighbourhoods.

“We are definitely aligned with the shared goal of getting as many people vaccinated as possible and our biggest task right now is to certainly emphasize the safety and effectiveness of the vaccine and underscore the importance of getting the vaccine you are offered first. I have tremendously sad story of somebody who recently declined the AstraZeneca vaccine who ended up in an ICU bed and unfortunately passed away. That is really something we can avoid by ensuring that we lead by the data and science and talk about the benefits outweighing the risks. We know that the AstraZeneca vaccine is safe.”

According to federal officials, Canada is expecting 4.1 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine by the end of June. One million doses are expected to be received directly from the company. Another 1.5 million doses of AstraZeneca CoviShield vaccine are expected to arrive from the Serum Institute of India, while 1.6 million doses are expected through COVAX.