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Health Canada approves Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine, Pfizer shipments ramping up

Last Updated Mar 5, 2021 at 2:41 pm EDT

Canada has added a fourth vaccine to its fight against COVID-19.

Health Canada has officially approved the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine as health experts remain eager for a one-and-done option to help speed vaccination.

The move marks another significant step since the J&J vaccine only requires one dose, while the three other approved vaccines require two.

One of the shots is 85 percent protective against the most severe COVID-19 illness, according to a massive study that spanned three continents.


RELATED: Ontario vaccine timeline – Residents over 60, school staff eligible for shots in Phase 2


This vaccine does not require extremely cold storage facilities.

Canada has pre-purchased 10 million doses of the J&J vaccine, with options to buy another 28 million.

Joelle Paquette, the Director General for vaccines at Public Services and Procurement Canada, says the 10 million doses are to arrive by September.

However, it’s not expected that any will arrive in Canada until at least April.

In the U.S., the shot has shown 72 percent effectiveness at preventing the virus and was found to be 86 percent effective at preventing severe illness and death from COVID-19, according to data submitted to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech’s vaccines which require two doses are 95 percent effective.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also said Canada will get 1.5 million more doses of Pfizer-BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine delivered this month, and another two million doses that were set to arrive in the summer will now come in April and May.

“We are expecting far more doses by September than there are Canadians, even given that we’re only talking about doses from four different approved companies right now,” Trudeau said Friday.

“We have reasons to be optimistic.”

 

The news from Pfizer that it will speed up deliveries comes after a marked delay in the national vaccination effort in January and February when the company decided to upgrade production lines at a major factory in Belgium.

“We’re going to be able to move things forward,” Trudeau told reporters Friday. “But at the same time, we also know that these are global supply chains that are being set up and there’s always a possibility for disruptions.”

Although weaker in terms of clinical trials and percentages, Johnson & Johnson’s protection is “not the weaker vaccine,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, White House Chief Medical Advisor, said last week.

Health Canada’s chief medical adviser, Dr. Supriya Sharma says Canadians can also be confident in recent decisions to stretch out the interval between the first and second doses of vaccine to allow more people to get their first shot.

“Definitely the messaging would be simpler if we had one set of data and we had one message and it never changed but that’s not what science does,” she said.

“We want to make sure that we have all that information, we apply it properly, and we make those decisions.”

Sharma also says having options for the general public to choose from will significantly help in the country’s efforts to ramp up vaccination rollout.

“If you get vaccinated by any of the four vaccines, your chance of COVID-19 is greatly reduced.”

The Johnson & Johnson vaccine can be stored and transported at refrigerated temperatures for at least three months, facilitating distribution across the country.

The head of Ontario’s vaccine rollout is calling Health Canada’s approval of the J&J vaccine “the icing on the cake.”

Retired Gen. Rick Hillier says the single-dose vaccine is ideal for reaching people who are harder to book for a second appointment.

“The important farmworkers, many of whom are migrant, who guarantee our food supply and on the other hand, perhaps the homeless who you can get to once but perhaps not the second time. It is easy to store and ship,” said Hillier.

A top infectious disease expert in Ontario had recently expressed a lot of optimism about the potential of the Johnson and Johnson vaccine being approved in Canada.

Doctor Isaac Bogoch said the shot could be a game-changer in our vaccination efforts.

“It requires just conventional refrigeration and it’s a one-and-done shot,” Bogoch said. “Imagine how fast and how much easier you could vaccinate a population if you didn’t have to bring people back for a second dose. That’s a big deal.”

There remains only one more vaccine currently under review by Health Canada, called Novavax, and Sharma said a decision on whether it can be used in Canada is weeks or maybe even months away.


With files from the Canadian Press

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