The target date for herd immunity could be shifting forward thanks to a change in vaccine guidelines and a potential fourth vaccine on the way.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has remained steadfast that all Canadians who want a COVID-19 vaccine will be able to get one by the fall.
But with extended intervals between the first and second doses, the National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) projects 80 percent of Canadians over the age of 16 could receive a first dose of the Pfizer or Moderna shot by the end of June.
On Wednesday, Trudeau acknowledged changes in public health guidance regarding the timing of second doses would likely speed up the vaccine rollout and move up the target.
Additionally, Trudeau says the timeline set by the federal government didn’t factor in the newly-approved AstraZeneca shot, or the Johnson & Johnson shot that could be approved in the coming weeks.
NACI said Wednesday that provinces can now wait up to four months before giving the second dose of COVID-19 vaccines. That is up from the three-week maximum first suggested when vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna were first approved.
Deputy federal public health officer Dr. Howard Njoo says the move is based on the most recent data on how vaccines are working.
“This recommendation is based on clinical trial reports, the emerging real-world evidence from around the world,” said Njoo.
“Data shows that, several weeks after being administered, first doses of vaccines provide highly effective protection against systematic diseases, hospitalization, and death.”
The federal body is recommending that “in the context of limited COVID-19 vaccine supply” the number of individuals benefiting from the first dose should be maximized.
The timeline could move up even more if the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine gets approved.
What this means for Ontario’s vaccine rollout remains unclear, but sources suggest the Ford government could provide a list of who will get vaccinated sooner by the end of the week.
Ontario says pharmacies in three public health units, including Toronto, will begin giving out COVID-19 vaccines next week.
Health Minister Christine Elliott says many of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine doses expected to arrive in the province will go to the pharmacies for the pilot program.
“This will allow Ontario to rapidly accelerate its vaccine rollout and get as many vaccines into arms as quickly as possible and, in doing so, provide more protection to more people,” said a spokesperson from Ontario’s minister of health.
Canada received 500,000 doses of Oxford-AstraZeneca this week and Ontario has said those doses will be given to people between the ages of 60 and 64.
Elliott says the province is currently updating its vaccine rollout, based on the expected Oxford-AstraZeneca doses as well as a national panel’s recommendation that the interval between vaccine shots can be stretched to four months.
She says the updated immunization plan will be shared “imminently.”
The Ontario Pharmacists Association (OPA) says the vaccination pilot will begin with approximately 380 pharmacies in Toronto, Kingston, and Windsor-Essex health units.
NACI is not recommending the AstraZeneca shot for residents over 65 but Ontario recently confirmed that the treatment will be given to people aged 60 to 64 and anyone below that group.
Solicitor General Sylvia Jones was asked who in Ontario will receive the new AstraZeneca vaccine that has a shelf life of less than a month.
Health Canada officials say the decision on the Johnson & Johnson shot could come in the next few days after the U.S. and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently approved the shot.
All three currently approved vaccines are 100 percent effective against death and hospitalization as a result of COVID-19, but clinical trials suggested mRNA vaccines (Pfizer and Moderna) were more effective at preventing COVID-19 infections.
With files from the Canadian Press