War-hardened general to lead Canada's Covid-19 vaccination effort

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A general who led NATO's mission in Iraq as well as Canadian troops in Afghanistan and Bosnia will spearhead efforts to immunise most Canadians against the novel coronavirus by September 2021, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced Friday.

"This will be the biggest immunisation in the history of the country," Trudeau told a news conference.

"This will be a major effort," he said. "But together Canada can, and will, do this."

The first doses of vaccines -- which are still undergoing expedited clinical trials -- are expected to be rolled out in Canada at the start of 2021.

Public health officials said this week that three million Canadians, or eight percent of the population, should receive vaccinations in the first three months of the year.

"If all goes well, most Canadians can be vaccinated by next September," said Trudeau, citing public health officials.

Major General Dany Fortin, chief of staff of the Canadian Joint Operations Command, will coordinate the logistics and distribution of vaccines through the Public Health Agency of Canada, with the support of the military.

The military will assist in planning, including meeting challenges like cold storage requirements, data-sharing, and reaching Indigenous and rural communities.

The government has already contracted with several pharmaceutical companies -- including AstraZeneca, Pfizer and BioNTech, Sanofi and GSK, Novavax, Johnson & Johnson, Medicago and Moderna -- for more than 400 million vaccine doses, for its population of 38 million.

It also purchased freezers for specific vaccine candidates that must be stored at very low temperatures.

There are currently 60,000 active Covid-19 cases across Canada.

As of Friday, the total number of cases topped 350,000, including nearly 12,000 deaths.

"We're in some of the toughest days of this pandemic," Trudeau said, urging Canadians to continue to take precautions to stem the spread of Covid-19.

amc/dw