The vaccine that AstraZeneca made in partnership with Oxford University is 60 per cent effective in adults, according to the European Medicines Agency (EMA), and was approved in Europe on Friday.
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AstraZeneca originally reported higher efficacy when, along with Pfizer and Moderna, it was one of the first producers of a COVID vaccine to release its Phase 3 clinical trial data in the fall. But it erred in its trial by giving roughly 1,500 participants the wrong dosage, contributing to a longer review process by regulatory bodies, including Health Canada.
AstraZeneca was the first company to apply for approval of its vaccine through Health Canada’s rolling submission process for COVID-19 therapies. The rolling process allows companies to submit data as they become available. Health Canada has been reviewing AstraZeneca’s submission for four months. Pfizer and Moderna, which each applied for approval less than two weeks after AstraZeneca, had their vaccines approved in less than two and a half months.
“In a conversation with (Health Minister Patty) Hajdu, last week, they were saying AstraZeneca could come out early, but we have nothing confirmed,” Merriman told the House of Commons Health committee on Monday, which was meeting to discuss the pandemic.
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“We haven’t received anything official from (the federal government about AstraZeneca), other than, ‘It’s coming,’ but we’ve heard that about a lot of our vaccine shipments,” Merriman said.
Health Canada said in a statement that it “expects to make a decision on the authorization of the AstraZeneca vaccine in the coming days,” after the EMA, Europe’s regulator, recommended approving it on Friday.
“Health Canada is working hard to give Canadians access to COVID-19 vaccines as quickly as possible, without compromising its safety, efficacy, and quality standards,” Health Canada said Friday. “Protecting the health and safety of Canadians is a top priority.”
Infectious-diseases physician Dr. Isaac Bogoch, who’s also on Ontario’s vaccine-distribution task force, was another witness at the Health committee on Monday. He said AstraZeneca’s vaccine — along with Johnson & Johnson’s and Novavax’s — has “excellent” Phase 3 data, and “is sorely needed.”
If Health Canada approves AstraZeneca’s vaccine, Canada would be added to a growing list of countries where it’s soon expected to be in wide use. Europe’s 27 member countries, along with the UK., Brazil, and India, are other populous countries that have approved AstraZeneca’s vaccine.
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Since Pfizer and Moderna have slowed down delivery of their doses in the last couple of weeks, Merriman said his province is now only on track to vaccinate half of its “priority population” — 190,000 health-care workers and seniors — by the end of March. Ottawa had set a goal of immunizing all of Canada’s vulnerable people by then.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Procurement Minister Anita Anand have been adamant that, despite the companies’ temporary slowdowns in shipments, Ottawa is still on track to provide vaccinations to the country’s entire population by the end of September.
This story was copy-edited after publication, at 4:00 p.m. on Feb. 1.