After a months-long review, Health Canada regulators today approved the COVID-19 vaccine from Oxford University-AstraZeneca for use in Canada — clearing the way for millions more inoculations in the months ahead.
The department’s regulators concluded the shot has an efficacy rate of 62 per cent and have authorized it for use in all adults 18 and older.
While it’s less effective than the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines at preventing infection, the shot is 100 per cent effective in preventing the severe outcomes of COVID-19 — including serious illness, hospitalizations and death — the regulators said.
“Overall, there are no important safety concerns, and the vaccine was well tolerated by participants,” the decision reads.
Canada has secured access to 22 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine, most of which are slated to arrive between April and September.
Public Services and Procurement Minister Anita Anand has said the government is trying to negotiate faster delivery of these doses now that new, more contagious COVID-19 variants are taking hold in Canada.
Health Canada also has authorized the vaccine manufactured by the Serum Institute, which has partnered with AstraZeneca to make that company’s COVID-19 product at its facilities in India. That version, which is biologically identical to the AstraZeneca shot but is manufactured under different conditions, has been branded “Covishield.”
The Serum Institute, which is working with Mississauga, Ont.-based Verity Pharmaceuticals, will deliver 500,000 doses of its vaccine next Wednesday, the company told CBC News. A further 1 million doses will arrive in April and 500,000 more in early May.
With these new doses, Canada now stands to receive about 6.5 million doses of the AstraZeneca, Moderna and Pfizer vaccines by the end of March. That’s enough to fully vaccinate just over 3.2 million people.
“This is very encouraging news. It means more people vaccinated, and sooner. Because for AstraZeneca, just like we were for Pfizer and Moderna, we are ready to get doses rolling,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said.
“Vaccines will keep arriving faster and faster as we head into the spring.”
Anand told reporters her department “will leave no stone unturned” in its quest to bring more doses into Canada “as quickly as possible.”
She said the government has received “positive indications” that the other AstraZeneca deliveries are on track but she could not say just how many shots will arrive in the second quarter.
What is known is that at least 26.4 million more doses — 23 million from Moderna and Pfizer combined, 1.5 million AstraZeneca doses from the Serum Institute and another 1.9 million AstraZeneca doses from COVAX, the global vaccine-sharing initiative — will arrive between April and June.
All told, the country is projected to have enough supply to fully vaccinate at least 16.45 million people by Canada Day. The supply will grow once delivery schedules for the AstraZeneca doses are confirmed.
Canada is a vaccine laggard in the Western world right now; dozens of other countries have vaccinated more people per capita.