Canada’s vaccine arsenal could get another addition within weeks: senior health official

OTTAWA — On the heels of Health Canada’s authorization of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine, the Johnson & Johnson shot could join the country’s arsenal within weeks, says Health Canada’s Chief Medical Adviser Dr. Supriya Sharma.

“Within March I think is a very reasonable expectation for that final decision, of course with all the caveats of making sure that the data is there and we don’t have any issues that come up,” she said about the ongoing Health Canada review of the vaccine candidate from pharmaceutical company Janssen.

Canada’s federal health agency has been assessing the Johnson & Johnson shot since Nov. 30, and like AstraZeneca, it’s logistically easier to administer as it can be shipped and stored in fridges rather than freezers. The potential additional advantage of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is that it is the first candidate to require a single dose.

In an interview on CTV’s Question Period airing on Sunday, Sharma said the review is “progressing really well,” and that Health Canada was expecting the “last bits of information” around manufacturing to arrive on Feb. 26. She said that from there, the team assessing the safety and efficacy of the vaccine would analyze the data as part of the “final stages” of the regulatory process.

The federal government has secured access to up to 38 million doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, though it’s possible the final number of shots Canada locks in will be fewer, given between the Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, and AstraZeneca vaccines Canada is set to receive more than 107.9 million doses, which is more than enough to immunize the entire eligible population.

It also remains unclear how quickly the Johnson & Johnson shots, if approved, could be making their way to Canada to be added to the ongoing vaccine rollout.

TIMELINE COULD ACCELERATE: ANAND

The federal government has committed to have everyone in Canada who wants to be vaccinated by the end of September, a commitment that was able to be made on the basis of having the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. Adding in other shots means that timeline could accelerate so long as the kind of delivery delays and shortages seen during the early months of the vaccine rollout don’t happen again.

In an interview on CTV’s Question Period, Procurement Minister Anita Anand said that with tens of millions more vaccines set to come to Canada in the weeks and months ahead, the country will be seeing a “very steep incline” when it comes to deliveries.

“We very much would like to move up the timeline for all Canadians to have access to a vaccine, and as soon as we have the delivery schedule ironed out with the 20 million AstraZeneca doses, we will be in a better place to move up that timeline,” she said.

Factoring in the potential addition of Johnson & Johnson doses, it’s possible millions more Canadians could be immunized earlier.

Anand said that while September is a “cautious timeline,” it remains the most accurate, and that she expects Canada will start moving up the list of countries when it comes to how many of its citizens have been vaccinated.

‘GET THE VACCINE OFFERED’: SHARMA

With more vaccines becoming available, there have been ongoing questions around whether Canadians will have the ability to choose which doses they sign up to receive, or if there will be an option depending on a person’s comfort level with the various degrees of efficacy demonstrated in clinical trials.

Sharma said that people should feel confident in all of the authorized vaccines and that all have shown to provide protection against COVID-19.

“Get the vaccine that is offered to you, it will provide some protection,” she said, noting that all three vaccines given the green light so far have been shown to prevent serious illness, hospitalization, and death.

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