When the COVID-19 pandemic began, Canada did not have a facility that could be quickly retooled to produce viral vector vaccines or mRNA vaccines. Canada’s limited domestic vaccine manufacturing capability meant that it had to completely depend on global supply chains and foreign sources for doses.
In order for vaccines to arrive in Canada, many networks of knowledge, systems of transport, and levels of government had to work together to facilitate their procurement and distribution.
Canada’s vaccine rollout officially began on December 14, 2020. This exhibition chronicles the path of the first vial of Pfizer-BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine — from production to the arm of a Canadian healthcare worker.
The vials are made of a special composite called Valor Glass, which is smoother and stronger than traditional medical laboratory glass. These characteristics ensure that the vaccine inside each vial remains safe and stable during transport.
There, the vials were sent through an intricate and automated vaccine-filling machine where they were washed and sterilized, then filled with the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine. The machine sealed them and staff prepared them for travel by packaging them in dry ice.
These vials, alongside orders for other countries, were carefully loaded onto a United Parcel Service airplane by staff on December 12, 2020.
When asked about the UHN’s role in this momentous event, Dr. Kevin Smith, President and CEO of UHN, said, “The UHN is proud to play a leading role in launching Canada's COVID-19 vaccination program." These past nine months have been challenging in so many ways, but no more so than for healthcare workers across the continuum of care — especially those dedicated colleagues who care for seniors in long-term care."
Given its partnership with the UHN and its critical role in providing care, staff at the Rekai Centres in Toronto were selected as part of a pilot project to receive some of the first doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine.
Around noon on December 12, Jin Huh, the senior director of pharmacy at the University Health Network, began tracking the vaccine delivery. A day and a half later, at 9:40 a.m. on Monday morning, Huh received the 585 vials as part of this first delivery.
In a carefully orchestrated workflow, he quickly moved the vials through the building. He brought them to Kelly Lalog, a registered pharmacy technician at UHN, who placed them in the –70 ˚C freezer.
Booth Rumsey, a pharmacy operations technician supervisor at Princess Margaret Hospital, collected five vials from the freezer. Rumsey inspected each vial, to ensure its contents were free of small particles.
Next, she flipped off each vial’s deep purple dust cover cap and inserted a sterile syringe with 1.8 mL of sodium chloride solution. After a final inversion and inspection, Rumsey prepared all five syringes, each with 0.3 mL of the vaccine.
Tamara Dus, a registered nurse, administered the first vaccine at 12 p.m. on December 14, 2020. “I felt very privileged and honoured to have been a part of that. And I still continue to be…it’s exciting to see the potential end to COVID and that 2021 can be different from 2020.”
Anita Quidangen was the first of five healthcare workers in Canada to receive a vaccine for COVID-19. It was an emotional event and some healthcare workers were in tears after their inoculations. “They are so thankful. As healthcare workers, one of our worst-case scenarios is to give the virus to our patients or to bring it home to our families,” reflected Dus.
The first five healthcare workers to receive the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccines were Anita Quidangen, Cecile Lasco, Collette Cameron, Derek Thompson, and Lucky Aguila.
Of the total number of vials that were received by the UHN, half were initially set aside as boosters. On January 4, 2021, healthcare workers from the Rekai Centre returned for their second dose of the vaccine.
After the second Ontario-wide, stay-at-home order was lifted, Musing shipped these two vials to Ingenium – Canada’s Museums of Science and Innovation.
Ingenium would like to thank colleagues Christopher Payne, Megan Ogilvie, and the University Health Network for safekeeping these vials and sharing their story.