Two empty vials of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine sit on a table at the Ottawa Hospital, Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2020. Pfizer and BioNTech say their COVID-19 vaccine can now safely be stored in regular freezers for up to two weeks rather than needing ultracold temperatures that have made shipping and distributing the vaccine incredibly difficult. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

Canada’s top public health doctor says vaccine results so far are very encouraging

OTTAWA — Canada’s struggling COVID-19 vaccination efforts saw multiple positive signs Friday, with further evidence one dose of a leading vaccine could be almost as good as two, news that Pfizer’s vaccine might not need to be kept extraordinarily cold, and a major milestone toward herd immunity passed.

On Friday morning, the millionth Canadian received a first dose of either the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccine. The marker came weeks later than expected after nearly a month of shrunken shipments from both Pfizer and Moderna.

Despite the slower than expected start, Canada’s chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam said “we can be very optimistic” about the performance of the vaccines so far.

While both Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna say their vaccines need two doses for full effectiveness, given three or four weeks apart, evidence is mounting that the first dose might be almost as good by itself.

Quebec reported Thursday the vaccines given there had been 80 per cent effective at preventing COVID-19 two weeks after a single dose for health care workers, and three weeks after a single dose for elderly long-term care residents.

British Columbia reported similar results Friday.

And a study in the medical journal The Lancet published Thursday showed after two to four weeks, a single dose was 85 per cent effective at preventing symptomatic COVID-19 infections in more than 7,000 health care workers vaccinated in Israel in December and January.

“It is incredible, I think, that we have such an efficacious tool,” Tam said.

Health Canada and provincial public health officials are examining the data actively right now as a discussion continues about whether single doses should be offered to more people, and second doses delayed until most highly vulnerable people have received their first.

Pfizer and BioNTech also now say their vaccine can be stored for up to two weeks at temperatures in a standard freezer — between -15C and -25C — potentially making it easier to use the vaccine in more remote locations.

That vaccine currently is to be stored at ultralow temperatures between -60C and -80C, and then can be thawed in a fridge for five days before being mixed with saline to inject.

The requirement has limited the places Pfizer’s vaccine is used in Canada. The northern territories and northern First Nations have been limited to Moderna’s product, which is shipped and stored in regular freezers already.

Pfizer and BioNTech applied to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration Friday to change that requirement to allow up to two weeks of regular freezer storage before thawing in the fridge, after testing showed that did not degrade the vaccine.

Pfizer Canada spokeswoman Christina Antoniou said the same application will be made in Canada soon.

Canada’s vaccine deliveries exploded this week, with 403,650 doses arriving from Pfizer. Canada expects to get more than four million more doses from Pfizer and Moderna over the next six weeks.

That news has allowed several provinces to expand their vaccination offerings beyond the first priority groups in long-term care homes and front-line health workers. At least three provinces — Nova Scotia, Ontario and Alberta — announced details for getting vaccines to seniors living in the community.

Nova Scotia’s chief medical officer of health Dr. Robert Strang said next week the first of 10 community-based clinics will open to get vaccines to people over the age of 80.

Retired general Rick Hillier, heading up Ontario’s vaccination efforts, said Canada’s most populous province will be able to start vaccinating people over the age of 80 by the middle of March.

And Alberta Premier Jason Kenney said next week people in his province who are at least 75 years old will be able to start making vaccine appointments. Kenney said second doses of vaccines have been offered to every eligible resident of the province’s long-term care homes.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Lyn Radford, 2019 Canada Winter Games board chair, was named 2020 Sport Event Volunteer of the Year at the Prestige Awards. (File photo by Advocate staff)
WATCH: Lyn Radford wins award for volunteer efforts

The board chair of the 2019 Canada Winter Games in Red Deer… Continue reading

A candlelight vigil will be held in Red Deer on Thursday to honour the 350-plus people killed in the Easter bombing attack in Sri Lanka. Contributed photo
Candlelight vigil planned for deaths linked to Olymel COVID-19 outbreak

A candlelight vigil is being planned for those who died due to… Continue reading

Red Deer Rebels forward Jaxsen Wiebe battles Calgary Hitmen forward Cael Zimmerman for a loose puck when the two teams squared off in February last season. (Photo by BYRON HACKETT/Advocate Staff)
Calgary Hitmen shutout Red Deer Rebels

Rebels name centre Jayden Grubbe team captain ahead of Friday’s game

Traffic will be delayed on 40th Avenue and 19th Street until the end of February. (Advocate file photo).
Traffic delays expected downtown this weekend

Red Deer drivers will be delayed in the downtown area of the… Continue reading

Bryson, six, and Mara, eight, play with puppies from Dogs With Wings Saturday. (Photo by Sean McIntosh/Advocate staff)
WATCH: Dogs With Wings introduces Red Deer program

A program that trains puppies to be certified service, autism, facility and… Continue reading

Walter Gretzky father of hockey hall-of-famer Wayne Gretzky waves to fans as the Buffalo Sabres play against the Toronto Maple Leafs during third period NHL hockey action in Toronto on Tuesday, January 17, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Funeral for Walter Gretzky to be held Saturday in home town of Brantford, Ont.

The funeral for hockey legend Wayne Gretzky’s father Walter will take place… Continue reading

A sign for the Canadian Security Intelligence Service building is shown in Ottawa on May 14, 2013. A newly released audit report shows that difficulties with the judicial warrant process at Canada's spy agency — an issue that made headlines last summer — stretch back at least nine years. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Spy warrant shortcomings stretch back almost a decade, newly released audit shows

OTTAWA — A newly released audit report shows that difficulties with the… Continue reading

In this file photo, a lotto Max ticket is shown in Toronto on Monday Feb. 26, 2018. (By THE CANADIAN PRESS)
No winning ticket for Friday night’s Lotto Max jackpot

TORONTO — No winning ticket was sold for the estimated $29 million… Continue reading

A trial countdown sign marks the days at George Floyd Square, March 4, 2021, in Minneapolis. Ten months after police officers brushed off George Floyd's moans for help on the street outside a south Minneapolis grocery, the square remains a makeshift memorial for Floyd who died at the hand of police making an arrest. The trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin will begin with jury selection on March 8. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)
Officer’s trial could reopen intersection where Floyd died

MINNEAPOLIS — During a group’s recent meeting at the now-vacant Speedway gas… Continue reading

FILE - In this Aug. 30, 2020 file photo Portland Police Chief Chuck Lovell calls for an end to violence in the city during a news conference a day after a demonstrator was shot and killed in downtown Portland. Amid protests following the police killing of George Floyd last year Portland dissolved a special police unit designed to focus on gun violence. Critics say the squad unfairly targeted Black people, but gun violence and homicides have since spiked in Oregon's largest city, and some say disbanding the 35-officer unit was a mistake. (Sean Meagher/The Oregonian via AP, File)
As violence surges, some question Portland axing police unit

PORTLAND, Ore. — Elmer Yarborough got a terrifying call from his sister:… Continue reading

Harley Hay
Harley Hay: Just don’t call it cod liver oil

Many people swear that a daily dose of various vitamins is an… Continue reading

Letter: Preserving green spaces in Red Deer

The Advocate published an article Feb. 11 about Sunnybrook residents concerned about… Continue reading

Former Toronto Argonauts lineman Chris Schultz remembered as a gentle giant

Former Toronto Argonauts lineman Chris Schultz remembered as a gentle giant

Most Read