Trudeau turns to the military to help with COVID-19 vaccine distribution


Maj.-Gen. Dany Fortin, a former NATO commander in Iraq, will head up vaccine logistics and operations

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau today announced that the federal government has chosen a senior military commander to lead its COVID-19 vaccine distribution effort as the country prepares for a massive inoculation campaign.

Trudeau said Maj.-Gen. Dany Fortin, the current chief of staff to the Canadian Joint Operations Command and a former commander of the NATO mission in Iraq, will head up vaccine logistics and operations within a new branch of the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC).

Beyond his extensive overseas service, Fortin also was involved in planning the CAF missions in pandemic-hit long-term care homes over the summer. The harrowing reports the soldiers produced after working in those homes caused the federal government to draft new directives on seniors’ care.

Trudeau said the government is creating a new military-supported hub within PHAC — the National Operations Centre — to help coordinate the deployment of millions of vaccine doses over the coming months.

“Canada is well prepared for large-scale rollouts of vaccines, but this will be the biggest immunization in the history of the country. We must reach everyone who wants a vaccine, no matter where they live,” Trudeau said.

Trudeau said the armed forces will assist in planning for and tackling pressing challenges, such as the cold-storage requirements for the promising Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. The military also will help Ottawa get shots to some Indigenous and rural communities where health care services are limited at the best of times.

“This will be a major effort but together, Canada can, and will, do this,” Trudeau said.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford has also picked a military leader — Gen. Rick Hillier, Canada’s former top soldier and chief of defence staff (CDS) — to lead similar vaccine efforts in the province.

While the federal government is procuring the drug, it will be up to the provinces and territories to get shots into the arms of Canadians. Hillier said that, despite massive uncertainties about possible delivery times, he’s aiming to have some sort of distribution structure in place by Dec. 31.

Hillier said Fortin’s appointment is a welcome development because the general has the know-how to execute a complicated rollout.”He is the most incredible leader. I could not praise him enough. I’m so absolutely delighted he’s commanding the task force. We’re blessed as a nation to have him” Hillier said, praising Fortin’s efforts in the war in the Afghanistan.The U.S. tapped a retired four star general, Gen. Gustave Perna, in May to lead Operation Warp Speed — a project to develop a vaccine, manufacture it in large quantities and push it out into communities.

The U.S. armed forces, working with pharmaceutical distribution giant McKesson and shippers like FedEx, will distribute millions of Pfizer vaccines doses to all 50 U.S. states the day after that product gets the necessary approvals from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which is expected to happen on Dec. 10.

As many as 20 million Americans are expected to be vaccinated in December, with 30 million more Americans being vaccinated in every subsequent month.

Majority of Canadians to be vaccinated by September: Trudeau

The government has been criticized by the opposition, provincial leaders and some public health experts for offering few details about its plans to roll out a vaccine once Health Canada gives one the green light.

The government also has had to grapple with the fact that Canada seems to be falling behind other developed countries on vaccine delivery timelines.When asked why he didn’t appoint a military liaison earlier, when the U.S. has had one in place for months, Trudeau said his government is doing “its very best” and work on the distribution plan has been ongoing for some time.”I can understand the eagerness with which people want to know when this will be over, when we’re going to get vaccines. What we can say is we’re going to work extremely hard to deliver as quickly and as safely as possible,” Trudeau said. “We’re on this and we’re delivering.”

Trudeau said Canada is on track to vaccinate nearly every person that wants a shot by September 2021.


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